Parents, especially first-time parents, are dream consumers. I speak from personal experience: I will buy anything and everything, from traditional products to the newest gadget, if it promises to enlighten me as to why the baby wants to eat every forty-five minutes, or why she won’t gain weight. Your product can get my kid to fall sleep in five minutes? Take my money. And it’s not just me: Parents are spending millions of dollars each year in child safety products and any product that can guarantee parents even a sliver of peace of mind has guaranteed itself a user base. Nowhere does this apply more than with infant and child car seats.
A market research study by Technavio expects the worldwide global baby car seat market to pass $2 billion by 2020. With such an eager customer base, coupled with tragic cases of child heatstroke in cars each year, it is astounding that smart car seats aren’t already an industry standard. It’s time for infant and baby car seat companies to change that.
Simple technology, big payoff
The technology behind a smart car seats is absurdly simple. Add a button to the infant car seat strap with Bluetooth connectivity to your smartphone, and voila – a smart car seat which alerts you if you walk more than three feet away from your car with your kid still strapped inside. Manufacturers have been toying with such devices for years, but there has yet to be a single product to take over the market. A 2012 study by the NHTSA concluded that child car reminder devices are ‘inconsistent and unreliable in their performance’. There is still room for more better smart solutions.
The timing is perfect
Hardware components used to make smart features have dropped in prices over the last few years. Back in 2013, TOMY International came out with a smart car seat that communicated with the user’s smartphone. The car seat, which measured temperature and motion (but didn’t have a child reminder system) cost $284, making it a fairly expensive model. Today the same technology would result in a lower cost per model.
Evenflo’s smart car seat is a perfect example. At $150 at Walmart, Evenflo’s smart car seat with SensorSafe technology is no more expensive than traditional versions. A sensor on the harness chest clip “transmits a signal via Wi-Fi to a wireless receiver plugged into the car’s data port when the ignition is turned off.” Turn off the ignition without releasing the chest clip, and the chip plays a ‘jingle’ to remind parents about their backseat passenger. The jingle stops when the harness is unclipped, ensuring parents don’t shut it off on autopilot.
A gap in the market for smart car seat solutions
The Evenflo car seat isn’t perfect, and doesn’t match the needs of all parents. It requires an OBD plug, which is located in different places depending on the car. The jingle is also triggered every time the car stops, even if the parent doesn’t get out – which can be annoying. What about measuring temperature? And what about hearing-impaired users? Baby Alert has a Childminder SoftClip monitor that connects a sensor on the car seat to another on the parent’s key fob. “If the two devices are separated by more than 15 feet for more than 6 minutes, the alarm goes off.” But what happens if someone other than the usual caretaker is driving with the baby? And even six minutes in 90-degree weather can cause dehydration in infants. Devices like Driver’s Little Helper and iRemind Car Sear alert place beneath the child’s car seat and syncs with an app on the parent’s phone, alerting them if the child is left in the car. But at $80 and $99 per device, respectively, and a cumbersome separate part which must be added to the car seat, these solutions leave much to be desired.
Step up before the window of opportunity closes
Smart car seats are not enough to eliminate the danger of death by heatstroke in hot cars, as this study by the NHTSA concluded. To truly do so requires “education, vigilance, and personal responsibility.” But these incidents cut to the core of parents precisely because they can happen to anyone in a moment of exhaustion or with a change of routine, even the most vigilant parents. Rather, “everyone in the community has a role to play.” It’s time for car seat companies to take a step forward and find more smart solutions. The technology – and consumers – are ready and waiting.