Smart nappies won't check your email or tweet about their contents (thank god), but they can collect data for an area of baby health that's severely lacking. As silly as it might sound, these prototype pampers use QR codes and an iPhone app to keep your baby peein' pain-free.
Unless you're a parent, you might not know this. A urinary tract infection can be a pretty serious issue for little 'uns, especially baby girls. Up to 8 per cent of them are suffering from one at any given time. As it turns out, sitting in a whole bunch of pee is not actually good for one's bottom parts, and infants are notoriously bad at relaying specific problems they might be having. That's where the Pixie Scientific smart nappy comes in.
We stopped by the Pixie Scientific offices and had a chat with designer Yaroslav Faybishenko, who explained how the whole system works. Each smart nappy has a QR code on the rear, surrounded an array of urine test strips which draw their samples from the nappy's absorbent area. Every time baby relieves herself, the test strips will trigger and modify the matrix of colour around the QR code. Then, by scanning each used nappy in with the accompanying iPhone app, which reads the test strip colour along with the QR code, you can keep track of what's going on in urineville on a regular basis.
It's this day-to-day monitoring that really makes the difference. Typically, infant urinary tract infections are only picked up once the situation is so bad that you'll notice symptons like fever and irritability. Even then, you can only confirm the infection with a trip to the doctor's office and a sample that involves either a catheter or an uncomfortable, plastic, pee-collecting nappy apparatus. By then, the infection has already been doing damage, sometimes causing permanent kidney scarring.
By monitoring the data by using a smart nappy even once a day, watchful parents can keep their own eyes on the goings-on, but the app app also tracks the technical ins-and-outs of the day-to-day data for later scrutiny by trained professional, if it comes to that.
If enough smart nappies get out in the wild, that data could do more than just ease parents' minds. There's a distinct lack of useful data on UTIs in infants precisely because detection is such a problem, and these smart nappies could provide a whole heck of a lot of it for study. Fortunately, the urine test strips are dirt cheap, so the additional cost of these kinds of nappies is measured in mere fractions of a cent per unit. And though right now the nappies can only keep tabs on possible UTIs, the hope is that later versions could pack even more data into that little square.
At the moment, you won't find any of these nappies in stores. The integration of urine test strips means government authorities are involved, which makes things complicated. There's still a way to go for full government approval, but the process is far along enough that Pixie Scientific has managed to get an IndieGogo campaign together, and if you chip in, you can get in on the ground floor of this nappy tech tower.
It's nice to see a crowdfunded tech project that not only helps the people ponying up, but also stands to help the world at large through simple data collection, so hopefully this will catch on. It's quite a lofty goal for something so lowly as a disposable human waste receptacle.