People Either Love Or Hate This Controversial New Baby Gadget

Photo: Courtesy VersaMe.
The idea of a wearable for babies is pretty weird, but VersaMe's Starling isn't what you'd expect. It doesn't track your baby's temperature or daily step (crawl?) count. The Starling, available for pre-order starting today, attaches to a child's clothing and tracks how many words are spoken to him or her — a surprisingly important metric in child development.

According to recent research, the number of words children are exposed to as babies and preschoolers is a huge predictor of their future IQ, vocabulary level, and emotional well-being (a 2013 New York Times editorial, The Power Of Talking To Your Baby, explores this idea). The more you talk to a baby (regardless of what you're talking about), the better you're setting him or her up for the rest of life. Unfortunately, wealthier parents and caregivers are typically able to talk to their children more than lower-income ones, so from the get-go, many poor children are set up with a disadvantage here.

The Starling tracks the number of words spoken in its vicinity — a 15-foot range, to be exact. This offers an estimate of how close caregivers are to reaching the ideal number of 20,000 words spoken per day to a child. It measures how often adults interact with the baby, and it can let parents know if the nanny is just watching Real Housewives marathons (TV words don't count).

The Starling
, as its name may suggest, is star-shaped, and it's made of medical-grade plastic. The device attaches to a child's clothing or to a stroller using a clip or magnetic strap. It's not a bracelet or watch, because babies often have very sensitive skin (also, choking hazard much?). The Starling connects to parents' iPhones over Bluetooth LE, providing metrics and other useful child-rearing information in its corresponding app. It also works offline without any phone connection. Its battery should last up to seven days before it needs to sit on its charging dock to power up again.
Photo: Courtesy VersaMe.

We wondered: If all the Starling is doing is tracking caregivers' voices, why not just create a phone app? According to VersaMe co-founder Nicki Boyd, the team decided against solely using an app because smartphones interrupt the interactions between parent and child; they're a distraction. The tracking on a wearable, however, is more passive — the device is just sitting there, listening.

So, if it's that passive, why not just make it a baby monitor? Because baby monitors are designed to pick up all the ambient sounds in a room. This device, on the other hand, specifically picks up vocalizations targeted in its direction. And since it's designed to be worn, it gives you a full picture of the day's spoken activities.

The Starling starts at $129 and should ship in April. The brand isn't just targeting techie consumer parents with this device: VersaMe is partnering up with the Bay Area non-profit Literacy Lab to offer Starlings to low-income families to help close the language-based engagement gap. That's definitely a cause we can get behind.

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