Long before the dawn of the pacifier, parents of newborns and toddlers found ways to use surrounding resources to help soothe and distract tots into precious moments of peace.
In today’s smartphone era, a proliferation of applications, video monitors, robotic strollers and other technologies have cropped up to create an industry built around the notion of helping parents with the push of a button.
Hoping to pinpoint a cause for the fussy tears? Biloop Technology’s Cry Translator analyzes distinct cries to determine if a baby is sleepy, stressed, hungry, annoyed or bored.
Want to push a toddler toward early literacy? Brigham Young University’s Hideout: Early Reading iPhone and iPad app is one of thousands of options designed to teach preschool-age kids to read through techniques such as letter-sound association and word repetition.
Unsure if repeated efforts to install a car seat were correct? This year, Pittsburgh-based company 4moms is expected to launch the world’s first fully robotic car seat to do the job.
The car seat – like the newly released motion-sensing 4moms rockaRoo Infant Swing and the self-folding 4moms Origami Power Stroller – is expected to catch on quickly, at least with an established tech-savvy customer base that includes actress Natalie Portman.
But with prices plunging for motion sensors, accelerometers and other tools vital to advanced robotics, Henry Thorne, 4moms chief technical officer, said he wouldn’t be surprised to see the market grow in coming years.
“There is a new toolbox of incredibly low-cost micro-controls available that wasn’t there before,” he said.
Rob Daley, CEO of 4moms, said lowering the barriers to creating new technologies doesn’t mean all new juvenile products will be necessary or even helpful. The company decided to make a robotic car seat thanks to feedback from parents and statistics showing that 7 in 10 car seats are installed improperly, and he said any technologies coming out of 4moms will be in direct response to consumer need.
“Technology for technology’s sake is not something we pursue,” Daley said.
When it comes to early learning apps and digital technologies for toddlers and children, the subject shifts from questions of the necessity to questions of harm related to increased screen time.
The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages media and screen time for children younger than 2 years and limiting screen time to two hours per day for older children, a stand supported in January 2012 through a joint position statement from the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media.
But the statement also allowed for some leeway in the matter because of conflicting research around the impact of screen time, the availability of digital educational material and a new relationship between young children and touch-screen technologies.
The Fred Rogers Center’s Early Learning Environment (ELE) program is an online database of early learning resources designed for children “from birth to age 5.” The ELE site said it encourages caregivers to treat digital media “more like they would treat a book.”