Parenting in 2020 — according to CES
Hoverboards, jetpacks, and robots. These are some of the things parents in the past thought their kids might have. They were probably a bit scared as well. In the fifties, it was also common to see “Home of the Future” videos with smart ovens and appliances and robots that would talk to you and possibly even cook for you. That future seemed comical a few years ago, but after seeing some of the latest technology and gadgets at CES, it may not be as far-fetched as it seems.
CES is the largest consumer electronics show on earth, taking place across several locations in Las Vegas during the first week of January. For 50 years, it has been a showcase for new technology and gadgets. From TVs to cars, to washers and dryers, you’re likely to find any type of electronic there. This year saw the introduction of a ballroom just for parent and baby technology though many of the trends and products across the show could help out parents and their children. Here are some of the biggest trends I saw that might impact parenting.
Amazon’s Alexa intelligent assistant was everywhere at CES. Alexa, the voice you talk to on the Echo or Dot, isn’t restricted to these devices any longer. You can find Alexa now on watches, headphones, and even washers, dryers, and ovens. For parents, Alexa is great for doing things hands-free like when feeding or changing diapers. You can get weather and news, set timers, and even order other supplies through Alexa on any of these devices. You can also listen to music — likely Old MacDonald on repeat if your kids are like ours — or audiobooks like Go the F to Sleep. You may even begin to find Alexa in your car in the next few years, so your children can yell at her to play Kidsbop over your NPR news. Alexa’s capabilities are also increasing daily. VW is adding the ability to lock and unlock your car or even turn on the heat before you get in with Alexa. In the future, you can tell Alexa, on your washing machine, to start up your zombie apocalypse survival car and even have the heated seats warmed up for you and your crossbows.
Connecting every single device to the internet and your smartphone was another large trend that continued this year. For parents and those expecting, you’re going to have way more data in the future. Devices that allow you to measure the baby’s heartbeat and other vitals in-utero and see stats and charts on your phone will be available. Once the child is born, you can have them sleep in a smart crib which tracks sleep cycles and vital signs as well — as if you need a smart phone notification to know when your baby is awake. That’s what ears are for. The next generation of baby monitors will connect to your phone and give notifications for noise and movement as well as provide a companion for your child. In fact Netgear even made a monitor that can be dressed as different animals to be more comforting near a crib. There are also several lines of wearables for babies and toddlers. Some will track activity like a Fitbit, though others get a bit more detailed and can determine the activity type. You’ll be able to tell your child they can only play video games after 30 minutes of outdoor activity and actually track it. Smart toothbrushes will let you know if your child is brushing enough and correctly. No more checking for a wet toothbrush before bed.
One of the most interesting smart devices was the Willow smart breast pump. A wireless device that can be inserted under clothing, it also claims to be much quieter and more discrete than other pumps, allowing for use outside of the home. Even if not, the handsfree design of it would have been a major lifesaver in our house and possibly would have resulted in sticking with pumping instead of formula longer. With it’s smart features, it can track how much milk is received at each pump, for how long, and even show trends to help determine the best times to pump.
For the older kids, a huge selection of STEM toys will be available. From the major players like Lego and Matel down to startups, there were no shortages of mechanical block based toys, robots, and toys that integrate coding to help get your child into STEM disciplines. Lego showed their new connected app and line of sets that integrate, allowing kids to build a model in real life, enhanced with instructions from their tablet, and then interact with the model in a game-like setting. A multitude of companies showed sets aimed at teaching the basics of coding with either companion apps or block like systems where each block provides different coding functionality and chained together can provide interesting mechanical interactions. There were also many drone and robot kits that required some basic coding to get up and running, a nice incentive for older children to be able to play with them. Other toys, meant for younger children didn’t require coding, but used connectivity to add new features. An experimental stuffed animal allowed people across the world to virtually hug each other — squeezing one animal would cause the other to vibrate in a simulation of the strength of the hug.
At home, technology will be bringing us closer to that vision of the future, or at least to the Jetsons. Every home appliance will be “smart” soon. Dishwashers, refrigerators, ovens, stoves, washers, dryers, trash cans, and even toilettes were on display with one or more “smart” features. Telling your trash can to open seems frivolous, until you have your hands full and need to dispose of a smelly diaper. Beyond voice control, refrigerators are also getting smarter about helping you shop and keep food fresh. Samsung’s refrigerators have a camera inside that can show you the inside without opening the door and wasting energy. You can also see the inside from an app when out shopping. Others allow you to see when various food is expiring and suggest meals to make with ingredients that are near their end. Others have screens that will help find recipes for what you have inside and even integrate with the oven or stove for cooking. LG’s refrigerator even lets you knock on the door to see inside. Some of the washing machines also integrate with Amazon’s Dash replenishment system, automatically ordering more detergent when needed. Being a parent will still require as much work, but with smarter appliances at home, it might get a bit easier to do all of the chores.
If not, at least you might get more of the one thing every parent needs, sleep. A bevy of connected and smart pillows, beds, and even blindfolds aim to help you get more ZZZs or make the most of those you do get. SleepNumber beds now integrate with an app and machine learning to automatically adjust to the perfect position and firmness level for your personal sleep patterns. A smart pillow from Zeeq, of course with Alexa built in, will track your sleep cycles, turn music off when you fall asleep, and wake you up at the optimal point in your sleep cycle to feel refreshed. Several companies also showed blindfolds or other headwear designed to help you fall asleep. According to their claims, the technology can get you to sleep nearly immediately, no more tossing and turning. Others will just let you listen to music — or a book — before falling asleep and automatically shutoff when you fall asleep. None of them can guarantee that you’ll feel like a human being during the first few months with a newborn when you are getting three hours of sleep though.
If all else fails, you may be able to delegate many parental responsibilities. Robotic nannies are all the rage. These little buddies, designed to be nearly nauseously cute, can act as a companion and alert you to problems. Some claim to be able to learn your emotions and behavior and tailor themselves to you. Others excel at following you around and smiling at you. Sort of like small children. At least they don’t need to be changed. Their blank stares with half moon eyes do feel especially sinister in the dark at night though. Don’t feed them after midnight.
Technology needs to not only improve for improvement sake, but to improve its users’ lives. Many of the gadgets unveiled at CES this year attempt to do that, with varying success. Adding wifi and voice commands has been the rule for the last five years or so, but finally companies are thinking about the actual benefit to the user. For many of these products, small incremental improvements or time savings add up quickly over time, especially for busy parents. Others add data, not just for the sake of more numbers, but to actually help make informed decisions and coach decisions. If these technologies can help parents feel more in control and get some time back, technology has served its purpose.