Baby Wearables and Monitor Woes

Baby Wearables and Monitor Woes

So here we are, the Quantified Life movement hit a peak the past few years and out came a dozen new wearables for all walks of life. And thanks to crowdfunding, new indie companies have had the chance to try their hand at making wearables for things we would never have thought about.

I’ve been watching some wearables over the years, and sadly saw many put on hold or become abandoned entirely. It’s disappointing but a natural ebb and flow. For instance, I’ve been waiting over two years for TempDrop to finally come out with their device. They are still struggling with mass production and while it’s frustrating for me as a backer, it’s ironic how life goes on anyway without the help devices like these hopefully give you. Another device I would really have found useful this year is the Bella Beat Shell. As it’s the only pregnancy wearable advertised out there. But the last I spoke to them, they had no estimated development and release date.

But even though I’ve been watching the development of so many wearables, I had to step my game up a notch this year. There was no way around it, I had to make decisions. And one of the first struggles I found dealt with – Baby wearables. So what does that mean specifically? While, many of the wearables play similar roles, monitoring a baby’s breath, heart rate, and movement while sleeping. Which is a very appealing attribute for new parents who have to watch out for SIDS. Even though many pediatricians say these wearables are giving parents a false sense of security in preventing SIDS, they do encourage parents to use devices that help them, but to stay ever diligent and use all available prevention techniques currently in place.

And I do have to agree, the prospect of SIDS is a scary scary thought, and the idea of yet another device looking out and capable of alerting you when things don’t seem right, is a very comforting thought for parents. So while I understand the medical professions cautions, I don’t feel discouraged in trying out the devices, in addition to all other medical suggestions too.

So where does that leave me on my baby wearable search? Well, I had to come up with what I wanted out of a wearable. The above mentioned features, heart rate monitoring, breathing monitor, etc seem to be pretty standard among the several options available. And that’s not where I ran into problems. I think I’ve made my point clear up to this point that my end goal in wearables is to collect data.

I’ve used a fitness app and wearable to monitor my health habits for years now. (I recently switched from FitBit to AngelSensor and MyFitnessPal, MySymptoms, and Moves.) To see what I was doing over a period of time and see what surprises I might have discovered. And I found a lot of useful information. But I wouldn’t have been able to correlate my surprising discoveries if I hadn’t had access to the data to begin with. One of the first things I noticed was my severely poor guesstimate on many habits prior to using a wearable. I had previously thought I was doing one thing and found that I actually was doing something quite different. And this self-discovery has been consistent in my data collection. What it told me was that my judgement was not necessarily accurate. And had I not had the ability to reflect back on my collected data, I may never have discovered that.

So my point is, a huge reason for my wanting to use wearables, even for my own child, was to actually have access to the data the child created. So that I could evaluate it, our pediatrician could evaluate it and see what was not only normal for our child, but be able to catch any irregularities early.

So where’s the problem? There are a surprising number of baby wearables who do not allow the consumer access to the data the device captures.

I spoke to multiple different development teams and the second to most popular answer I received was ‘We’re working on it‘. The most popular answer was ‘We don’t have that as a current option.’ Now I’ll admit, this surprised me. It left me with questions. ‘What happens to the data then? Does your company store it? Is it stored in the phone and can I access it? Does it get erased after a set timeframe? Why wouldn’t this be something you offered?‘ To me it feels like a natural next step in the process of making a wearable. Give your consumers a way to visualize or at least view the very data they are creating. But I was clearly in the minority in thinking this. In this ‘SQUIRREL‘ culture, consumers tend to want immediately information with little regard for anything outside of the here and now. Or so that’s the impression I got from the direction so many developers took on prioritizing saving the data.

I’ve ended up spending months searching, talking with teams, and finally found….one…device  (MonBaby) that has logging on their schedule and I am being given a chance to beta test it. Finally, something. It’s not the best case scenario and their due date for release will be cutting it dangerously close to when I will actually need to rely on it (barring no hiccups in their schedule.) But it’s the best I can hope for and cross my fingers they don’t run into any problems.

Now this isn’t the only smart device we plan to use for ourselves, I’ve already received my Pacif-I, a smart pacifier/thermometer. And BleepBleeps motion detectors and am on their wait list for the plethora of parenting devices they have planned. I just have to keep hoping that the good ideas that keep popping up don’t fade away like some of the original concepts I’ve seen. But you do feel a sense of accomplishment finding all these nifty gadgets and hold onto the hope of getting use out of them. But I won’t know for sure how effective and safe they are until we start to really use them.

 Baby Monitors

Now another big issue we have run into is finding a good baby monitor. The monitors of yester-year are quite antiquated in comparison to what’s on the market today. Most baby monitors are glorified security cameras with phone or tablet access, so you can watch the video stream from anywhere. With added features of two-way talking through the monitor, playing music to help with sleep, and have a nice night vision option. You can control the monitor settings through the apps. Now on the surface, this sounds awesome. But the reality is that it’s been well known for many years in the security industry that these baby monitors have terrible security flaws. It’s been all over the news how the manufactures have spent very little time on securing the video and audio streams, opening up to anyone who wants to see, the video. There have even been cases of hackers abusing the audio stream, terrorizing the child or parent while watching the video stream.

I knew this going in. I had been keeping an eye on this problem for years and sadly none of the popular baby monitor makers have taken these known issues seriously or made changes to their devices to stop this from happening. So it left my husband and I very little options. We either risk it on a poorly secured standard baby monitor (and leave ourselves and our child open to strangers watching the stream), find an extremely basic radio based monitor and lose all the nice new features (and believe me, finding a radio signal monitor is extremely difficult to find in today’s world -we found all of one that seemed decent enough but too many reviews stated it stopped working after a couple of weeks of use), or look for indie or open source monitors that have a greater focus on security. Or the last option…..make a monitor ourselves.

My husband found what he would need in hardware to create the device, using Raspberry Pi and various open source options. But the options are either un-finished or very bare bones. And would require a lot of work. Something we aren’t necessarily opposed to, but not a realistic option in our time crunch. So while we have been keeping that in our back pocket, I’ve continued to hunt for pre-made devices from smaller companies or start-ups. Keeping an eye on Kickstarter and other crowd-funding projects, etc.

Recently I started tweaking my search, since I wasn’t getting anywhere. I started focusing on just security systems and monitors, since a security monitor and a baby monitor are very similar in build and use. And I was pleasantly surprised to find a few start-up security monitors that had a ‘baby monitor’ option.

I did find the Angel Care Monitor intriguing. It’s the only big company monitor that sounds like they take security seriously. But I can’t say whether they’ve eliminated the known problems, since I haven’t used it. I wasn’t thrilled about the Facebook and social media login option though. Whereas I understand people do like being able to share their saved memories from the device, it’s well known that social media sites data mine and we don’t know how much of the device information gets passed onto them.

Next, I saw the Withings Home Security Device. Now we use the Withings Scale and are pretty happy with it. I’ve had digital scales in the past and I was pleased with the tweaks that the Withings has made. It automatically senses which user is on the scale, takes weight, heart rate, and even tells you the weather. Although, like other digital scales, it’s sensitive to foot positioning, although not nearly as bad as my previous digital scale. And Withings automatically sends your data to the app. So there’s no manual syncing or picking which user account, etc. You just step on and go. So when I saw this Home Security option, I was intrigued. So having had a good experience with one of their products, I dug deeper on their Monitor.

Home also has an air quality feature, which is nice but I’d love it if it included a CO2 and Fire detector option. Although BirdI looks promising for those features in specific and makes them less necessary to be integrated in the home security device. Having said that, I have to say I’m fairly impressed with how they are handling the security issues. They actually have a full 39 page manual detailing how to protect privacy on the device. Which is way more than the other monitors have offered, which generally consists of one paragraph summarizing that they care about your security but don’t detail how they ensure it. This monitor also has specific modes you can pick, one of which being the Baby Monitor mode. Or you can completely turn the camera off. Now that leaves the question on how lightly it is for other users with the app and access to turn on/off the camera without you knowing.  So as far as pre-made monitors, this Withings one has some good qualities and is the leading contender in our search so far.

Next I found a few Kickstarter funded ones, some are still in manufacturing and are only available via Pre-Order at this time. Which is slightly disappointing, as we will need them very likely before they are available, but are good to keep an eye on. Mainly; Angee – a security monitoring system with a little bit of AI personal assistant thrown in. Which peaked my interest to be honest. It doesn’t have a required monthly subscription like Canary. Although Canary does have additional features such as air quality and reports and is far cheaper. But Angee has a 10 hour battery life should the power go out. I also like their approach to security.

“We used an almost paranoid diligence protecting both static data (within the device) and dynamic data (communications). Our approach is to perceive the cloud in general as a potentially untrustworthy environment, and thus we`ve encrypted not only the communication between Angee and the cloud, but also the data stored in the cloud. For the encryption itself, the de facto industry standard — SSL — is used. So we use the same encryption framework as banks or the military.” Per the Angee website.

Although I would like a clearer answer from them on whether users can use private clouds/local networks for data storage rather than AWS through them.

Angee does also have the personal assistant options and integrates with other smart devices. It doesn’t sound like it’s as sophisticated as the Amazon Echo or the JIBO personal robot. But it does have an IFTTT support, so it could potentially become more detailed and personalized. But it’s not due to be open for order until October 2016.

So at this point, I’m still not sure which direction to go. There are a few good options but they each have their hiccups that give my husband and I pause to invest and see how it goes. We’ll still continue to search and research the options we have. But I wish I had a clear ‘this is the one‘ moment to give you. Sadly, I don’t.