Machine Learning Meets Baby Tech: A Look at the Connected Baby Products at CES 2018
CES 2018 took over Las Vegas earlier this month, showcasing the latest trends in autonomous cars, VR/AR, IoT, and more. Smart home assistant integrations were available for a slew of new products, and AI and machine learning were buzzwords integrated into new products in unexpected ways.
Beyond the enormous Samsung and LG display exhibits, tucked into a small corner of the Sands Expo Hall G, was the quiet and relatively screen-less baby tech marketplace. In addition to the companies that participated in the 3rd CES Baby Tech Summit and The Bump Best of Baby Tech Awards, more than 25 baby-related companies were present in some form at CES this year. Products included fertility trackers, breast pumps, and a variety of baby monitors – tech for everything from the period before conception to the first few years of a baby’s life.
What does the future of first-world parenting look like? Two trends stood out: machine learning has entered the baby tech world, and multiple devices now come with matching smartphone apps serving as personalized coaches for parents. Between the machine learning and machine coaching, we could be on the advent of “machine parenting”… though it appears we’re still many years away from that.
How do you combine machine learning with baby tech? Take the humble baby monitor, which was formerly a simple walkie-talkie device enabling parents to hear when their baby cried. With the latest in machine learning and computer vision, you can have an HD baby camera monitor that analyzes your baby’s breathing patterns with the Cocoon Cam, or your baby’s sleep patterns with the Nanit or Motorola Halo cameras. If you pay an extra subscription fee, the Nanit and Halo will also give you sleep insights through their smartphone apps. For an added bonus, the Nanit also keeps track of the temperature and humidity in the room while providing a dimming night light. And the Halo can play calming sounds and project a soothing light show, combining features from competing baby monitors. These game-changing products indicate the start of a features arms race in the baby monitor space.
If that isn’t enough baby data analytics for you, you can also connect your Rest Devices’ Mimo baby-wearable tracker (debuted in 2014) to its just-released Nod smartphone app (in collaboration with Johnson & Johnson). The Mimo logs your baby’s temperature and body position in addition to sleep activity and breathing rate, you can also manually enter your baby’s feeding time and amount. From all the training data, the Nod app generates recommendations, serving as your “personalized sleep coaching system.”
If that still isn’t enough “actionable insight”, now you can also monitor how much social and educational stimulation your baby is receiving. The VersaMe Starling, first introduced back in 2015, is promoting its newest version, just as its first major competitor, the Oya Labs’ Wordle, is coming out this year. Both are app-connected, word counter devices that are lightweight and can easily clip onto a baby’s collar.
Did you know that speaking 10,000 words to your baby every day could boost brain development? Now you can track that too. The Starling runs its word-counting algorithm on the device itself and promises it does not store actual audio content. The Wordle sends your audio clips to its encrypted cloud server, where its natural language processing algorithms analyze and provide additional feedback on the number of “engaged conversations” and the ratio of positive/negative words.
The advice generated by the above devices is currently still rudimentary and, as such, most new parents would probably still turn to their friends, family, or doctors for human-generated, personalized help and guidance. Advice through an app could be better than no advice at all, though, in situations where parents are isolated from family and friends.
Does all this logging and coaching provide actual value and solutions to the problems parents face, or is it anxiety-inducing information overload? It will vary depending on the parents, but one can easily imagine a Black Mirror episode where a malfunctioning baby tech device creates unexpected issues.
All of the apps come with disclaimers, just in case you weren’t already aware, about how they are “NOT TO BE USED AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR PARENTING OR OTHER ADULT SUPERVISION.” Autonomous cars may be safe for roads by 2020, but unsupervised machine parenting is not safe for human babies – will it or should it ever be?
With those philosophical and design questions in mind, the majority of CES baby tech products this year provided innovation without the use of AI. Here are a few in each category:
- In the breast pump category, there were only two mobile wearable breast pumps on the market both showcased this year: Willow, who was back and ready to launch its first completely self-contained wearable breast pump after conducting beta tests for the past few years. And existing breast pump maker, Dao Health, who introduced its first wearable breast pumps, Liberty and Independence, designed with a belt clip and connected through a piece of tubing to its Freemie hands-free cups (introduced in 2014). Our team is particularly excited about the additional innovations in this area in upcoming years.
- In the fertility tracker category: the Comper temperature tracker and the Quanovate Mira and iXensor Eveline LH-trackers automatically logged data to corresponding apps.
- In the baby monitoring/logging category: several companies showcased Bluetooth-connected flexible stick-on temperature sensors for continuous fever monitoring (Blue Spark TempTraq, Proton Tek CarePatch, and iWeeCare TempPal), the Project Nursery Smart Baby Monitor featured integration with Amazon Alexa, BlueSmart Mia embedded a voice-controlled baby feeding logger into a silicone bottle sleeve, and BabyLogger released its stand-alone baby event logger for caretakers uncomfortable with smartphones.
- In stand-alone categories: RayVio still showcased its Ellie UV sterilizing box (2017), but most of its booth space this year was dedicated to advertising its new Quartz UV self-cleaning water bottle. The Zoome Burabi formula milk maker promised an instant-coffee-like experience for formula from powder: a bottle ready at the right temperature in less than 8 seconds, following in the footsteps of the similar Baby Brezza (2014) and the Keurig-style Gerber BabyNes (2016).
Despite being a relatively small part of CES 2018, there is a lot to talk about and think through in the world of baby tech. The hype around machine learning has carried over into the baby tech space, but plenty of problems exist that have solutions without any AI. CES gives a glimpse of the future of tech, but what will the future of parenting look like? Ultimately, it’s up to parents to decide.
A special thank you to the many parents who contributed valuable insight for this blog post.