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The Ultimate Parent-Vs.-Gadget Grudgematch
Let's be clear: No one needs a robot. Or a rubber ducky that puts your baby to sleep. Or even a toothbrush that comes with a game. But it might be nice to have a gadget do your parenting work for you once in a while -- especially after a long day. Now, with hundreds of new tech tools hitting the market, you can. But should you?
With WiFi, apps, GPS, speech recognition, movement tracking, and more, these new gizmos are programmed to interact with your kids, entertain them, and keep them healthy. For most parents, the idea of a device taking the parenting reins ranges from "over-my-dead body" to "I'll take two." Certainly research shows that warm interactions with a loving caregiver are best for children's development. But just for fun, we've identified some of the most innovative parenting products to play a fantasy matchup between man and machine.
Note: These products are so new we haven't been able to test them. Most are pricey. And the privacy issues they raise prevent us from recommending any of them until we're able to evaluate their security.
Let's consider who (or what) is better able to handle these parenting chores:
Getting Kids to Sleep
Basic beige walkie-talkie-like baby monitors are a thing of the past. Now you can employ friendly-looking sleep-soothing devices with built-in intelligence -- and endless patience -- to get your kids to sleep.
- SuzySnooze Baby Monitor
With the included app, Suzy Snooze works like a regular audio baby monitor. But she emits light and sound to lull your kids to sleep, and if she senses crying, she tries to comfort them back to dreamland.
- Edwin the Duck
Edwin is an app-enabled rubber duck designed to win your kids' affection so they'll dutifully fall asleep when he plays lullabies. He also works as a night-light, plays games, and even tests the temperature of baby's bath.
- Remi Sleep Tracker and Trainer
Remi soothes babies to sleep and even trains toddlers not to get up until the built-in clock says it's OK.
Winner? Technology. If you've tried every sleep method in the book, these gadgets could be a lifesaver. But peek in once in a while and make sure the lights and sounds don't actually keep your baby awake!
New devices are integrating technology into playtime, leisure time, and activities to let kids independently interact with tech -- without screens.
- Jooki – The Jukebox for Kids
This is a speaker in toy clothing. By tapping special characters called "stars" on the device, kids can play stories and music from music files, internet radio, and streaming services such as Spotify.
A personal assistant based on Amazon's Echo, Aristotle adds kid-friendly features such as games, a camera, sing-alongs, books, and sound effects that work with Mattel toys. Privacy issues are a concern, though.
Like an old-fashioned movie projector, Cinemood beams content -- movies, TV shows, digital storybooks -- onto any flat surface, making any viewing feel like a trip to the movies.
Winner? Technology. Used with limits, these can allow you to catch a few more z's, get dinner on the table, or enjoy a quiet moment. Use whatever available parental controls the devices come with, as interacting with the internet can expose kids to age-inappropriate content.
Keeping Track of Kids' Locations
New devices let parents keep tabs on kids' locations even in their own home.
- Smart Nursery Alert Sensor
The Smart Nursery Alert Sensor is like having eyes (and arms) in your baby's room at all times. If baby climbs out of the crib, busts through a baby gate, or is in any way not where it's supposed to be, Smart Nursery Alert will let you know.
- Lilly Loco and Cecil G
These colorful GPS-enabled devices travel with your kid and display their whereabouts on a map in the included app.
Winner? Parents. Of course you can make a case for these, but location trackers are iffy. They can be inaccurate and get lost or disabled -- which just leads to more worry if they're not working. The usual precautions parents take when leaving their kids alone or sending them out into the world should suffice.
Keeping Kids Healthy
Some smart gadgets can reach where no parent can -- say, between the teeth or all the way down to the heart.
- Kolibree Toothbrush
This electric toothbrush includes an app that teaches kids about oral hygiene and a game that encourages them to brush.
- Owlet Baby Heart Monitor
Baby wears a "smart" sock that tracks heart rate and oxygen levels and gives you status updates via an app.
- Pomo Bebe Activity Tracker
Sort of like a baby Fitbit, the Pomo monitors body temperature, movement, sleep, and more, giving you feedback on the app.
- Fisher-Price Think & Learn Smart Cycle Exercise Bike
This indoor stationary bike comes with an app kids can play on a tablet or on the TV. It comes with learning apps and the ability for parents to track their kids' progress over time.
Winner? Parents. Keeping our kids healthy is job No. 1 -- really, the only one we have to do. So devices -- while offering peace of mind -- are superfluous.
Being Your Kid's Friend
Cute, but not necessarily cuddly, these companion robots are designed to help in the house and read to, play, and interact with your kid. They're all expected to hit the market in 2017 or 2018.
Kuri roams around looking for ways to be helpful. It plays music, reads stories, takes pictures and videos of the family, and alerts you via an app if things in the home seem amiss.
Just like a regular robot, Jibo answers questions, reads, and plays songs. And though he's smart, he's also sensitive. Jibo's artificial intelligence improves the more you interact with it.
Billed as your child's first friend, teacher, and nanny, iPal is a three-foot-tall humanoid robot who can talk, teach, play, and enable video-chatting with parents when they're away.
Winner? Parents. Not even close.