Babysitter Robots?

Robot babysitters are not a new idea, but Nissan Motor and Japanese baby store Akachan Honpo have a new idea for parents who get distracted by crying babies in their cars. Learning that 60% of Japanese parents drive with their babies and no helper each week, the pair of companies got together to create a robotic babysitting system especially for babies in cars.

The system includes two fluffy monsters, which they call “intelligent puppets.” The larger of the two sits in the back seat of the car, facing the baby. The smaller one sits on the dashboard, facing the parent. The big robot, in response to a voice command from the parent, waves its arms, sings songs, and otherwise distracts the baby. 90% of babies in trials were distracted by the robot and stopped crying. The Kitasato University Faculty of Health Sciences conducted the tests.

The small robot communicates with the parent. For example, when the big robot’s sensors perceive that the baby has fallen asleep, the small robot shows this to the parents by appearing to fall asleep itself. The robots are quiet when Baby is sleeping.


Crying babies are distracting to parents. That’s not just natural — it’s adaptive. Not only does the crying of a baby in the back seat distract drivers, but the things they do in response — including turning around or meeting the child’s eyes in the mirror to comfort them, handing the baby a toy, or talking to the baby — can also be distracting.

8% of parents in one survey said that they had caused an accident while trying to comfort a crying child.

Nissan also found in their survey that parents felt stressed when they couldn’t see their babies in the car. Since infant car seats keep babies safer by placing them facing the back, parents can’t see their child’s face while driving. Since the small robot in the intelligent puppet pair mirrors the child’s expression (to whatever extent a robot can), parents may feel reassured to see that the baby is sleeping or resting quietly.

Less crying can translate to safer driving for all of us.

And while there are some ethical questions when it comes to robot babysitters in a broad sense (even though Forbes magazine says, “We’re talking about the Holy Grail of parenting”),m this narrow application seems benign.

Not on the market

The intelligent puppets are not yet on the market and there are no predictions thus far for when they are likely to reach store shelves. It seems like a great idea, though.

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