Baby monitors haven’t changed a great deal since the Zenith Radio Nurse from 1937 – which, fact fans, was inspired by the 1932 Lindbergh kidnapping. This two-part system included the Guardian Ear transmitter that you plugged in by the child’s cot, and the Radio Nurse receiver for the parents to listen in. Add a camera for visuals and that’s about as far as development has gone… until now.
A new sleep sensor system from Spoutling brings baby monitoring into the age of apps and wearable technology, actually predicting how long your child will sleep given vital sins such as heart rate and temperature and environmental conditions such as light and noise.
There are plenty of baby-monitoring apps already available, using a couple of smartphones or a webcam so parents can stare at their beloved child while he or she does or doesn’t sleep.
Sproutling is a much more sophisticated system, but one simple enough even for worn-out parents to understand. It enters a world getting used to activity trackers from the likes of Fitbit and Jawbone, and parents used to such devices will feel right at home with the tracker and app set up. We look at how the system works, what is shows, how it looks, and when it will be available and at what price.
Sproutling consists of two gadgets for the baby and an app for the parents.
The baby wears an ankle band that monitors the child’s vital signs: heart rate and temperature, as well as motion and orientation.
The second unit is a wireless smart charger that also senses noise, light, temperature and humidity in the bedroom.
The monitor gathers 16 different measurements every second to help parents understand:
• If the baby’s heart rate is higher or lower than usual
• When the baby is most likely to wake up
• If the baby is sleeping on his/her back or rolling over on his/her tummy
• If the baby is calm, fussy or angry when he/she wakes up
• If it’s too bright or too loud in the room for the baby to sleep comfortably
• If it’s warmer or cooler than the baby’s ideal room temperature.
The really clever thing about Sproutling is that over time it learns what to expect of the baby. It estimates how long a child will sleep based on those body and environmental conditions. This should give the parent an indication that they can do at least a few of the things it’s impossible to do with an awake baby – catch up on TV, read a book, iron the clothes, or even make another baby.
The app doesn’t actually display the vital-signs data as this could confuse or frighten parents when nothing is really out of the ordinary. The screen glows green when all is well, and red when, for example, the baby’s heart rate is unusually high.
Sproutling’s founders Chris Bruce and Matthew Spolin – both fathers of young children – are determined to market the device on parental confidence, not fear. This is one of the reasons why they chose not to bombard parents with a wall of data but keep things simple.
The device makes a thousand measurements a minute, but that data is largely hidden in order not to overwhelm tired weary parents who might otherwise needlessly obsess about the sensor’s readings.
Sproutling is instead meant to save parents from near-constant monitoring of a baby cam. Parents are notified of changes when it’s important, meaning they don’t have to stay awake to check on their child’s position or breathing.
As it is worn by a baby every effort has been taken to make the ankle band super safe. It’s made of medical-grade, hypo-allergenic material, with no metal, pins or charge points exposed – something we might expect from the next Fitbit wristband that caused skin rashes in some wearers.
The band charges wirelessly while resting on the charger, which communicates to mobile devices via 802.11n Wi-Fi.
Sproutling is designed for children aged 0 to 2, and three bands are supplied for growing ankles.
The stylish design is not babyish, and is parent-centred rather than being some sort of baby clothing accessory.
The app can handle information from multiple babies, each of which would be wearing a Sproutling ankle band.
Design is key for Sproutling, which has hired four ex-Apple engineers, including the former director of engineering for the MacBook Air. It also employs two PhD data scientists, and is backed with $2.6m of venture capital.
Sproutling baby sleep sensor release date, price and UK availability
Sproutling has announced today that it is taking pre-orders for the system. The company has set a pre-sales goal of $50,000 for its first batch of monitors that will ship in early 2015.
The Sproutling Baby Monitor will retail for US$299, but early bird pricing starts at $249 while limited supplies last. A UK release date and price has not yet been set but the company expects international sales to begin shortly after the US launch. As soon as we hear more we'll update this article.
At current UK/US exchange rate the UK price would be around £175, but to start with you'd have to add shipping from the US on top of that.
Eager parents spend way too much on their firstborn, and £199 (or whatever UK price is decided on) isn't cheap but if this works and gets you even a few nights better sleep then it will be worth every penny!