When my kids were growing up we had scary looking kids harnesses to keep them from wandering. I never partook in the ritual, opting instead to let my kids respond to my doggie commands like “come here” instead of a physical restraint.
Today’s parents are going to need to decide if they’re going to indulge in the raft of new digital wearables designed to constantly track the real-time whereabouts of their kids with a digital leash. And since tech is a lot cooler and less cumbersome than wearing a harness, there are some compelling reasons to consider.
Meet Smart Wristwear
A glut of new kids wristwear products are coming on to the market. All of them will allow you to pinpoint your child’s location (some from further distances than others, with varying prices and varying amounts of reliance on a smartphone as a companion). They are sturdy with long-lasting batteries. Two are still pre-release. All are under $200. Where they differ is in their design, personalized features and additional costs.
One of the first kids wearable locators to come to market was Filip. It’s a plastic wristphone that allows kids to voice-dial five phone numbers just by saying commands like “Call Mom.” Kids can voice chat by pressing a single button. The digital watch/display uses a combination of cellular, GPS and Wi-Fi connectivity to broadcast the location of children directly to the parent’s smartphone. Emergency help is available at the touch of the red button, which can activate an emergency beacon, voice recording or ambient sound. Parents can also set up Filip “safe spaces” like the backyard. If children roam outside the boundaries, parents receive a text alert. Now in its second incarnation, the Filip 2 has corrected for its original clunky design by coming in various wrist sizes with extender caps to make them more comfortable. It costs $149 and requires a current data plan or a separate plan for $10/month.
The Burg 31 takes a page from high fashion. Targeting kids and seniors, it looks like a traditional analog watch, but has built in, standalone phone capabilities thanks to its preloaded SIM card. Like most other smartwatches, there’s also a built-in GPS locator. Optionally, it can be connected to your smart phone via Bluetooth when there’s one nearby. Like Filip, the Burg 31’s phone can place a one-touch emergency call or contact any of three numbers on speed dial. Unlike Filip, there is no LED screen. It costs $129 and comes with $25 of cell phone minutes.
Perhaps the most ambitious of the group, AmbyGear is a geolocator smartwatch with the added charm of supplying downloadable games and apps. Many of the games and apps are designed to teach life lessons about responsibility and kindness, as well as encouraging physical activity. Like the others it has a built in GPS tracker. Like Filip, AmbyGear lets parents set up boundary alerts and allows text messaging. The watch also uses gamification of activities, rewarding things like exercising and calendaring. There are even geocaching-based adventures.
Because the watch uses Bluetooth Smart (more powerful Bluetooth that works well for wearables and mobile devices) and Wi-Fi, it is self-contained; kids don’t need to own a smartphone. Launched on Indiegogo with an introductory launch price of $99 and a full retail price of $129, AmbyGear should be available for delivery this August.
Safe Family Wearables‘ Paxie band adds an interesting and potentially lifesaving component to the smartwatch. In addition to being a geolocation device and an activity tracker, the band monitors a child’s vitals including body temperature and heart rate.
The band looks like the familiar “snap bracelet”; it has no digital LED screen. Rather, it interacts with the mobile management system on the parent’s smartphone.
The device’s creator, Merle Lee Freeman, wanted to tackle the problem of accidents—kids overheating in cars, or spiking fevers, for example. The band also concentrates on kids fashion with interchangeable Peter-Max like designs; three bands are included with each package.
What Here.O does best is eliminate the bulkiness. By far the most diminutive smartwatch for kids, Here.O users GPS, Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity to offer highly accurate location services for parents. The watch also has the easiest-to-read display of the group, too. And it has a SIM (with international calling) card built-in so the child can make and receive calls (with a $4.95/month phone plan).
Here.O shies away from the frills. Rather than provide yet another full screen to play on, it tells time. The smarts of the unit are mostly in the backend, where parents have a complete set of geolocation tools. Other members of the family can use the same location tools on their smartphones, but the youngest in the family will be part of the system. The watch sells for $179.
If your kids hate wristwear there’s still tracking hope. Companies like iTraq treat kids just like any other lost thing on the internet of things. You can locate your child when they wear a luggage-sized tag on their backpack or belt loop.
Toddlers will not be able to use the more complex watches and will probably do well with Safe Family or iTraq. Four to eight year olds will get the most out of smartwatch trackers as they’re the ones who are least likely to have a smartphone. Older kids may find wearables a bit juvenile-looking, while parents are going to wrestle with yet another device to track.
But ultimately, these devices are lifesavers. Yes, things go missing all the time and tracking can get out of hand. But where there are kids in danger of finding danger, devices like these are our best shot.