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Sleep-related deaths, including SIDS, kill about 3,500 babies in the U.S. each year. Because a change in breathing rate is an early sign of distress, parents engage in nightly ritual of checking on their child every hour or so for the barely perceptible rise and fall of their chest. While only a small portion of children will actually be affected by something like SIDS, its unpredictability leaves many more parents suffering from anxiety, sleep deprivation, and post-partum depression.
The founder of Smart Beat and his wife were just such parents. He created Smart Beat as a way of reassuring parents that their baby is breathing safely without the disruptive ritual of waking up and going into the nursery to monitor the child. While it looks—and in many ways functions—like a conventional baby monitor, it also tracks your baby’s breath and alerts you to any worrisome changes.
That in itself isn’t particularly novel. Older baby monitors, like the popular Angelcare product line, do much the same by using a motion-sensing mat placed under the crib mattress. It sends an alert if your child stops moving for more than 20 seconds. There’s also an array of newer wearables—including smart diaper clips, onesies, and socks—that do everything from tracking stomach movement to measuring oxygen levels in the blood and heart rate.
Smart Beat though doesn’t require you to introduce anything onto your baby or in their crib, which always carries some risk. Instead, it analyzes the color changes in every pixel of the camera’s image to recognize movement. It does this 20 times each second, and because Smart Beat can identify more than 16 million shades of color, it can detect those subtle breathing motions that are nearly impossible to perceive when you’re standing over the crib, let alone looking for them on a video screen.
If you’re at all conversant with smart home cameras, setting up Smart Beat will be old hat. Plug in the camera’s base station and connect it to an ethernet port on your router, download the companion app, and follow the onscreen prompts to add the camera to your network. Smart Beat has the added advantage of a voice guide that lets you know when each step has been successful or not. I had the system up and running in a couple of minutes.
The next step is to put your baby in their crib and tap the app to start monitoring. The app will ask you to select an area on a grid over the camera image to tell it where your child is located in the frame. Then you press a button labeled “start breath monitoring.”
As the Smart Beat analyzes your baby’s movement, you can see their breathing stats in real time in the app. If they stop breathing for more than 20 seconds, Smart Beat will sound an alarm on your mobile device—even if the device is in sleep mode or the sound is turned off. You can also set alerts to notify you when your child’s breathing is irregular or has fallen out of a designated range, as well as when they wake up and fall asleep or when you forget to arm the monitor.
I found Smart Beat’s breath monitoring worked accurately and reliably, but I’d never ask a parent to rely solely on my anecdotal evidence. It’s worth noting here, then, that Smart Beat has been tested at respiratory simulation labs at the Mayo Clinic, University of Minnesota, and Intermountain Healthcare Center. It is currently undergoing a clinical trial.
While this feature impressively addresses the most dire situation parents can imagine, odds are they will use Smart Beat primarily as a video monitor. Fortunately, it’s a darn good one. The HD live stream is remarkably sharp with rich, accurate colors and good contrast and illumination in day and night mode respectively. Two-way talk lets you listen in on your child and soothe them back to sleep with your voice, and image capture lets you save the cutest moments from the live video feed to your phone or tablet. The camera can also be remotely rotated 355 degrees to get a panoramic view of your child’s room.
The Smart Beat app provides the tools to control these features in the most unobtrusive way possible. They appear as an overlay when you tap on the camera’s feed, and they fade away when you stop using them, returning to a full-screen view of your little one.
At $249.50, Smart Beat isn’t cheap for a baby monitor, but most parents would say the peace of mind it provides is worth far more than that. Consider also that it doesn’t need to be retired when your child outgrows their crib. Smart Beat can monitor anything that breathes, and the company says its customers are using it with their toddlers, school-age kids, elderly parents, and even pets (I used myself as a test subject and it worked great). Given that, families that have members with disabilities or respiratory issues like emphysema and apnea seem like could benefit from Smart Beat as well. With that kind of utility, Smart Beat seems like a pretty smart investment.