New technology gives parents wealth of options

PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTEMarch 6, 2014 

BIZ CPT-BABYTECH 1 PG

Elijah Wiegmann, design director at 4Moms, talks about the company's latest product the RockaRoo, Feb. 10, 2014. The RockaRoo is the company's redesign of the baby swing. 4Moms is the Strip District-based tech company focused on creating innovative baby products.

REBECCA DROKE — Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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? Ontario-based Biloop Technology's Cry Translator analyzes distinct cries to determine whether a baby is sleepy, stressed, hungry 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 letter-sound association and word repetition.

Unsure whether 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 established tech-savvy customers.

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 products will be necessary or even helpful. The company decided to make a robotic car seat thanks to feedback and statistics showing that 7 in 10 car seats are installed improperly.

When it comes to early learning apps and digital technologies for toddlers and children, the subject shifts from questions of 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 and limiting screen time to two hours per day for older children. But its position allows for some leeway in the matter because of conflicting research around the impact of screen time.

The Fred Rogers Center's Early Learning Environment (Ele) website encourages caregivers to treat digital media "more like they would treat a book."

Susan Newman, a social psychologist and author, said she applauds 4moms and others for items that provide practical solutions, but said many digital apps offer interactions that could be done just as easily, and often better, between parent and child.

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