Baby tech boom

The supply of smart devices engulfs the baby tech market

Baby-related technology is increasingly about monitoring newborns from afar using the latest facial recognition tools and artificial intelligence software.

Anxious parents increasingly monitor their babies from afar using voice and facial recognition technology

We live in an age where parents are arguably more informed than ever before. Thanks to the internet of things (IoT), a whole new industry sector has emerged over the last few years, helping anxious parents monitor their babies, be it their health, their sleeping patterns or their learning skills, using sensors, apps, cameras and even voice and facial recognition techniques. Another trend is the move of medical technology into the mainstream: wearable patches, germ-killing techniques and other medical breakthroughs are being integrated into consumer goods designed for worried mums and dads.

Baby tech has become something of a CES fixture. The show is devoting increasing space to gadgets created to support parents during their child’s infancy. For the last three years, it has given awards for some of the best baby-related consumer electronics and smart devices.

Bottling it up

While most of the 15 devices to make it through to the awards final list this year were fully connected, a few broke the mould. One of them is a portable solution for sterilizing bottles and pacifiers, an example of medical technology moving into the mainstream.

The product, which was commercialized in April 2017, uses a proprietary technique employing short wavelength ultraviolet (UV-C) and light emitting diode (LED) technologies to kill germs. UV germicidal irradiation has been used in medical sanitation since the middle of the 20th Century. At wavelengths of 260-270 nanometers (nm), UV light breaks molecular bonds in the DNA of microorganisms and bacteria, stopping them from reproducing.

Recent developments in LED technology have led to the emergence of commercially available UVC-LED devices. UVC-LED uses semiconductors to emit light between 255-280 nm. The reduced size of LEDs and their low power consumption means they can be integrated into cheap consumer goods, such as the portable sterilizer mentioned above.

IEC Technical Committee (TC) 34: Lamps and related equipment, prepares International Standards relating to lighting solutions, with IEC Subcommittee (SC) 34A: Lamps publishing Standards relating to lamps including LEDs, OLEDs and glow starters.

IEC TC 61: Safety of household and similar electrical appliances, publishes International Standards which, among many others, deal with the safety of UV radiation water treatment appliances. The TC also prepares Standards which deal with the safety of electric toys intended for children under 14 years of age and with at least one function dependent on electricity. In 2017 the TC issued a new edition of IEC 62115, Electric toys-safety. Standards concerning the design, manufacture, use and reuse of discrete semiconductor devices are produced under the remit of IEC TC 47: Semiconductor devices.

IECQ, the IEC Quality Assessment System for Electronic Components, is a worldwide approval and certification system that covers the supply, assembly, associated materials and processes of a large variety of electronic components that are used in millions of devices and systems. The IECQ Scheme for LED Lighting gives consumers the assurance that suppliers who are covered by the scheme manufacture products which meet the appropriate standards of reliability, safety and cost-efficiency.

Does your face fit?

Most of the other devices selected for the finals of the awards involve an app and some form of monitoring. One of the products to stand out is a baby monitor that can recognize human faces and detect pets. The trend for baby monitors to incorporate facial recognition is growing. According to companies producing such devices, they enable parents to identify unwanted people around the baby while they are away (the nanny’s boyfriend for instance) without having to watch non-stop live video.

Voice recognition and artificial intelligence are features of another interesting baby monitor to make the CES finals. Designed by a neuroscientist, it uses voice recognition and artificial intelligence software to measure the richness of the child’s language environment and recommend tips and ideas to help parents connect with the child in a way that maximizes his or her development.

“We have developed our own natural language processing proprietary algorithms because it gives us better control of the data analysis. It enables us to specifically quantify critical measures of a child’s learning environments”, says a business manager for the company.

According to baby care specialist Klaus Neefisher, at consumer market research consultancy GfK, “demand for camera–based monitoring devices is increasing across most of the markets we survey. However we also detect a level of distrust towards smart connected baby tech gadgets, for instance in Germany where sales of smart monitors remain low compared to several other European countries. According to our research, it is because the quality of the Internet connection is not always good enough and  quite a few people have been put off from buying the devices.”

International Standards relating to digital camera specifications are published by IEC TC 100: Audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment. IEC TC 110: Electronic display services, issues Standards relating to TVs, tablets, mobiles and other displays.

ISO/IEC JTC1, the Joint Technical Committee formed by the IEC and ISO on information technology, has established SC 37: Biometrics, which develops Standards for generic biometric technologies, including facial recognition.

JTC1 has also created SC 41: Internet of Things and related technologies, which publishes Standards on sensor networks, among other things.

Different IEC TCs deal with varied aspects of voice recognition. TC 100 has set up Technical Area (TA) 16: Active Assisted Living (AAL), accessibility and user interface, which covers voice recognition.

JTC1/SC 35: User interfaces,  publishes International Standards pertaining to voice recognition. One of them is ISO/IEC 30122 part 1 which deals with the framework of and general guidance for voice command user interfaces.

Protecting data

Sales of connected baby tech devices could suffer from increasingly widespread concerns over the issue of privacy, notably in the US. How can children’s data be protected from potential hackers? Is the encryption software included in the various devices adequate for safeguarding information relating to people’s babies?

Cyber security and data protection are both major focuses of IEC work. It has published more than 200 International Standards dealing with these issues.  

In addition, the IEC Conformity Assessment Board (CAB) set up Working Group (WG) 17, to investigate the need for and timeframe of global certification schemes for products, services, personnel and integrated systems in the area of cyber security.