Gadgets

You can now plug your baby into the Internet of things

Sproutling baby tracker
Image Credit: Sproutling

Baby activity trackers really are a thing, and a new one from a company named Sproutling is now available for pre-order.

Sproutling’s baby activity tracker, designed to be worn at night and during naps, is a baby-safe ankle band equipped with sensors that track the baby’s heart rate, temperature, mood, whether it’s still sleeping, and if it has rolled over onto its stomach. This last point is important as infants under seven months shouldn’t sleep on their stomachs, so the built-in accelerometer can pick up and alert parents if it’s happening.

The tracker, which is for babies up to two years old, comes with a free mobile app and a charging base. The mobile app connects over the Internet to the tracker, allowing parents to use it even if they leave the house and go to dinner (a Bluetooth connection’s range would keep them in the house), and delivers a visual and simple description of how the baby is doing, without any numbers and complicated metrics.

“Parents aren’t doctors; they don’t have any sort of understanding of what all that stuff means,” said co-founder Chris Bruce.

Unlike fitness trackers for adults that show a variety of numbers and sometimes cause the wearers to obsess over them, the Sproutling tracker shows simple indicators such as “awake” or “asleep” and a pulsating dot to illustrate the heart rate, among other things.

The tracker’s base is dual-purpose. It wirelessly charges the band when it’s placed on top of the base, similarly to those charging stations for cellphones. But it’s also filled with sensors that track the baby’s environment, including temperature, light level, noise level, and so on, which helps determine the baby’s comfort level and whether it’s in a bad mood, and it even alerts parents if they’re making too much noise in the house, such as during a party.

“We’re really trying to eliminate that helicopter parenting. … If you have a baby, a lot of your free time is actually when they’re asleep,” said Bruce. Because the band and base are monitoring a variety of elements, the tracker aims to give parents a fairly complete view of how the baby is doing.

Out of the four million babies born every year in the U.S., 75 percent of their parents purchase a baby monitor or tracker, according to Sproutling, creating not only a big market opportunity for the company, but also a big opportunity to alleviate parental anxiety.

As for how the system figures out how to interpret all the sensor data, it does so through the magic of data science. The Sproutling team has been training the data models with tons of data about babies — what’s a comfortable body temperature, what level means a fever, what’s a normal heart rate at a particular age, and so on — and measures the data of the particular baby against it. The models also look at clusters of babies, with various patterns, and after spending about seven days collecting a baby’s data, it finds a matching set of patterns and continues to compare the incoming data to that cluster as well as the baby’s own patterns. The team admitted, however, that the monitor is geared towards healthy babies and that it wouldn’t be effective for ones with special health conditions as they would fall outside of these patterns.

Sproutling is also hoping that its parent customers will want to anonymously share their data, not only to help train and improve the data models, but also because the company would like to work with researchers in that field. The company has already been approached by institutions wanting to work with them, and it has pilots planned with a major hospital and university that will yield more than 2,000 hours of testing by the time the tracker ships in March 2015.

Of course, Sproutling’s baby tracker is not the first and only on the market. The Mimo and Owlet are similarly designed to track how a baby is doing and to alert parents if they need to attend to their child.

Up next, Sproutling is planning a product for 2-5 year-old kids that will also collect data and solve a “major painpoint for the parents,” although the team declined to share more details.

The Sproutling baby tracker is currently priced at $249 for pre-orders, and will later retail for $299.

Sproutling was founded in late 2012 by Chris Bruce and Mathew Spolin, and is based in San Francisco. The company raised $2.6 million last August and participated in Lemnos Labs’ accelerator program in early 2013.


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