By B.N. Frank
The idea of “Smart Diapers” for babies dates back a few years. As noted in a recent Vox article, Huggies is now selling them in Korea and Japan and the U.S. and Mexico may be getting them next.
More companies are interested in creating and marketing these diapers as well as other “Smart” personal care products. Besides being expensive, Bluetooth technology emits harmful wireless radiation and there is currently no safe level of wireless radiation exposure that has been determined for children or pregnant women. In fact, 250 scientists have signed a petition which warns against numerous devices that emit Radio Frequency (RF) Radiation, which is used in WiFi and Bluetooth.
“Smart” Diapers also qualify as another source of “Surveillance Capitalism” since companies freely admit that they are able to gather data and track their customer use from the diaper sensors.
Regardless, companies are hoping that there is much money to be made especially since “Smart Diapers” for adults seems to already be a thriving market. Poor grandma and grandpa…
That long march toward making smart diapers happen has been driven more by fears of slipping market shares than by any kind of real demand from consumers. The furious pace of innovation belies the fact that the US diaper market is in trouble. As the birthrate declines for the seventh year in a row, there are fewer and fewer new parents to buy diapers, and almost all major diaper brands have taken hits. After Kimberly-Clark, which manufactures Huggies, laid off 13 percent of its workers in January 2018, the CEO told investors, “You can’t encourage moms to use more diapers in a developed market where the babies aren’t being born in those markets.”
Last summer, to counter wilting sales, Pampers raised the price of its signature diaper by 4 percent. Huggies is making a bet different bet: By selling upscale diapers, it hopes to recoup the profits lost to a rapidly shrinking baby diaper market.
“The fact that the birthrates are quite low in the US has stirred a lot of interest in trying to get the consumer to spend more,” said Ali Dibadj, who tracks the personal products industry for the investment management group Sanford C. Bernstein. “The only way they can increase their business is to bring better products to the market. Their whole hope is to create products that the consumer base will pay more for.”
That puts Huggies squarely in line with other companies advocating seemingly unnecessary tech infusions into ordinary hygiene products on the bet that it will widen their profit margins. The brands behind the major US diapers have already flooded the market with “smart” toothbrushes, razors, and skin care wands, all of which they hope will entice wealthier consumers who can be convinced to drop the extra money.
Later this year, Procter & Gamble, which manufactures Pampers, is launching an AI toothbrush that claims to improve brushing. While typical electric toothbrushes cost around $30, P&G is planning to start its AI brush at $279, a massive price jump that foreshadows the future of the smart diaper. Kimberly-Clark, for its part, promised more “meaningful innovation” of its personal hygiene products, although the company already boasts everything from smart toilet paper to smart restrooms equipped with sensors that relay data about soap and toilet paper use.
There is not a lot to a smart diaper — the removable Bluetooth sensor, which resembles an orange disk, can be attached to the outside of any regular diaper. That sensor syncs to a Huggies smartphone app, where it relays information about the temperature and air quality, and — in addition to individual alerts about baby poop or pee — tracks the overall frequency of a baby’s bowel movements and calculates the times of day the diaper tends to need changing. No more than five people can register as guardians on the app. (Source: Vox)
Justification for purchasing this product is offered by Tony Park who developed the Bluetooth sensor used in Huggies’ smart diapers:
Park told Vox that the design is personal for him. Some babies, like his daughter, don’t cry when their diapers need changing, and figuring out when to switch diapers before a rash develops is a challenging guessing game. His target customers are millennial first-time parents who don’t have the time to constantly check diapers. “They are quite busy working two jobs,” he said. “They want to get involved in parenting, but they don’t have enough time to share with their baby. With our Monit device, they can get a notification whenever and wherever.”
Oh Tony. Just because you can – doesn’t mean you should.