Being a new parent is a trip: it's full of new experiences, surprises, and lifestyle changes. But for many, it's also a really stressful experience. For years, parents have relied on books and advice from experts on how to take care of their newborns when they arrive. But now, there is a crop of new gadgets designed to make parenting easier and less stressful than before.
The ubiquitous baby monitor is a staple for many new parents. Whether its an audio-only affair or a complicated video setup with smartphone control, the baby monitor behaves as a pacifier for parents, letting them check on their sleeping child without entering the room they are sleeping in. Baby monitors have their limitations, however. Even the best video monitors can be difficult to see in dark nurseries, and it's not really possible to tells if your child is breathing normally or is comfortable via a traditional monitor.
Sproutling, a startup founded by former Apple and Google engineers, is looking to bring the basic baby monitor into the 21st century. The company's first product, the Sproutling Baby Monitor, is available for preorder at $249 starting today, with general sales expected next year. The Baby Monitor eschews the traditional video or audio monitoring systems for a wearable device that straps around an infant's ankle and measures heart rate and movement and interprets mood.
The device pairs with a base station (Sproutling calls this a "charging bowl") located somewhere in the same room as the child, which relays the measured statistics to a parent's smartphone. If the newborn rolls over onto their stomach while sleeping, which studies have shown increases the chance of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, the Baby Monitor will send an instant alert to a parent's phone so they can reset the child on their back.
The base station can also measure the ambient temperature and noise levels in the room and alert parents wirelessly if conditions are not ideal for a sleeping baby. Sproutling's biggest pitch is that it has the ability to predict when a baby will wake up from its nap, giving parents an exact idea of how much time they have before the little one needs undivided attention. Sproutling also boasts the ability to determine the mood of the child when it wakes up and if it will be fussy or not. The app can also monitor multiple children at once, so long as each child has a monitor on their ankle.
Sproutling's greatest ability is to predict how long before your child wakes up
Co-founder Chris Bruce says the goal of the Baby Monitor and the company in general (more products are planned) is to "give control back to parents" using modern technology and data analysis. For example, if a baby is sleeping and the parent is unsure if they'll be able to attend to something else or watch their favorite TV show before their child wakes up, the Sproutling app uses information based on time of day and the typical sleeping patterns to provide a guide for when the baby will awake. The idea is that traditional monitors require constant attention from the parents, while Sproutling's system lets the parents focus on other things while their child sleeps and only alerts them when something is amiss. Bruce says the system "communicates to parents in a way that doesn't cause anxiety."
Sproutling developed the technology inside the Baby Monitor anklet over the course of two years. It uses a flexible core surrounded in surgical silicone that pops into a soft strap that wraps around the child's ankle. The strap was designed to be fully washable and can be attached to the child with just one hand. A Bluetooth connection transmits data to the charging bowl, which then sends the data to Sproutling's iPhone app through the company's servers. The battery in the wearable portion lasts about three days and can be charged by just placing the device on top of the charging bowl. A full charge takes about three hours.
Sending data about your child's vital statistics across the internet to Sproutling's servers may give parents pause, but Bruce notes that the company fully anonymizes the data and makes it unidentifiable. It also does not share or sell the data, unless parents opt in to a data-sharing program designed to improve the efficacy of the product.
Many parents will likely still want some sort of audio- or video-monitoring system in addition to the Sproutling Baby Monitor, which the company acknowledges. Bruce says that excluding audio or video monitoring differentiates the product from the other baby monitors on the market, and it works hand-in-hand with traditional systems. Parents will have to put a lot of trust in Sproutling for it to accomplish its goal of relieving the anxiety caused by constantly checking in on the baby. Additionally, the high cost of Sproutling (the regular price will be $299 when it goes on sale broadly next year) may push many parents away, especially when they will likely also want to purchase a traditional monitor that will cost anywhere from $100 to $300.
Most parents will want a traditional monitor in addition to the Sproutling
Sproutling isn't the only company looking to make monitoring a sleeping child easier — the $200 Mimo utilizes a complete wirelessly connected onesie to provide many of the same features as the Sproutling Baby Monitor. Sproutling's system works with anything a child might be wearing, however, and doesn't require the baby to wear a special onesie.
Parenting in the 21st century isn't too much different than parenting in the decades before it, but if Sproutling and others are successful, it might just be slightly less stressful for new parents. Which means parents can divert that stress into worrying less about their child's sleeping patterns and more about how they will pay for their college education in 18 years, which Silicon Valley has yet to crack.