Sensor Babies

 
Everything that can be quantified, will be quantified. But should it?
 

2013 saw companies announcing the first wave of wearable baby products equipped with microchips and sensors. These products lure parents by promising to track sleep patterns, monitor body vitals or promise quicker interventions in emergencies (such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). But what happens when we equip pacifiers, toys and other baby products with sensors and connect them to the Internet?

 
 

These are some of the questions Marcel, Julia, and me asked ourselves during our spare time at UID in Fall 2013. The following paragraphs describe the concerns we heard parents and fellow students express and a couple of ideas of how these concerns could be addressed.

We decided not to focus much on the medical aspects of Quantified Baby products – trained medical staff would be better qualified for this. Much rather we were curious what people thought about products that focussed more on parental convenience rather than health benefits. 

 
So what do other people think of this?
 

To make the most of our discussions we decided to anchored the discussion around a hypothetical product. This had two main reasons: we had no access to the then announced prototypes and felt like we wanted to push the tracking capabilities a little further into the future. We then came up with our smart pacifier and an Internet-connected drinking bottle that measures temperature, body vitals and more, by extrapolating from features seen in other products. In retrospective we weren’t that far off: just this January a smart pacifier that monitors a baby’s body temperature was announced at CES 2015 and even a smart drinking bottle on Kickstarter

When we confronted parents and future parents with our concepts we found that their concerns could be summarised as listed below. (Note: Further studies with far larger sample sizes are necessary to validate these)

 

Anxiety

Do Quantified Baby products increase parental anxiety because parents now have access to information without professional guidance?

Reliance

Do Quantified Baby products make parents more reliant on getting their information from technology rather than relying on their parental intuition?

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Distance

Do Quantified Baby products lead parents to miss out on the joy of seeing their children grow up because their focussing on the data rather than the human being?

 
We created a story board, an app prototype and a rendering of the smart pacifier and drinking bottle to anchor the discussions around a specific concept of ours.

We created a story board, an app prototype and a rendering of the smart pacifier and drinking bottle to anchor the discussions around a specific concept of ours.

 
 
Whether we like it or not, more Quantified Baby products will appear on our store shelves in the coming years.
 

We hope that companies will not try to exploit young parents fears in order to push more sales. Well-designed Quantified Baby products certainly have the potential to have a lot of positive impact, but they need to make the right promise: to be a helpful tool, which will not to take over parenting. This way it can avoid giving a feeling of false security.

To address this we came up with the following three principles worth considering if you or somebody you know find yourself tasked with the responsibility of designing Quantified Baby products.

 

Shape the tone of information 

It is especially important to consider how health information is being communicated, utilising an appropriate amount of restraint if necessary. Given pure data values without medical context could lead people to wrong conclusions. We would not want parents to self-diagnose illnesses similarly as to what happens when we google symptoms online.

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Consider parental growth 

From our interviews we learned that parenting is a learning process. Good Quantified Baby products ought to take this into account and adjust the information they display not only based on the development stage the baby is in, but the parent’s level of experience.

Respect parental bonding

Studies suggest that children strongly benefit from closeness with either parent. Hence, well-designed Quantified Baby products ought to take this into consideration and design for this interaction. For example, could Quantified Baby products encourage moments of emotional intimacy even if that is not the primary goal of the device?


Disclaimer: This article is a summary of our CHI Student Design Competition Project from 2013 and was picked up by the Spanish newspaper El Pais. This article would not have been possible without the amazing team effort by fellow UID students Julia Nacsa and Marcel Penz.