Trender Research™

Technology meets people.

“Brian, where’s Caroline?” my wife asked on a bright summer’s day at the beach, searching for our two-year old in my wake as I returned from building sand castles with the small children in our extended family.

“I thought she came up here, she said she was too sandy,” I replied, now realizing I had been too caught up in the fun at the water’s edge to see her safely return to the shade under our umbrella. “Oh my God, that was ten minutes ago.”

We scanned the teeming masses on the beach in all directions, but no Caroline. It was a Saturday in the height of beach season in Rhode Island and the quilt of blankets left only small trails of visible sand between the massive patchwork of sun worshippers. There were people everywhere.

Panic sets in. Do I dash back to the water? Should I search through the crowd going north or south? Should I head towards the parking lot? I quickly bark out orders to an auntie to watch the other kids. Hearts racing, eyes wide, we split up. My wife slaloms the blankets north along the beach. I jog south straddling the boardwalk near the parking lot.

“Caroline! Caroline!” we shout, increasingly shedding our inhibitions about the spectacle with each passing moment. As we stumble pathetically through the crowd, not caring now about tracking sand across foreign blankets, tears start to cloud our vision. A mix of remorse and terror begins to take hold. Did we lose our sweet girl? How could we be so careless?

After what seems like an eternity, I see a familiar pink Dora bathing suit and yellow sun hat. Instantly, my heart is lifted. There among a gaggle of squawking little kids is my sweet Caroline, holding court, directing even the bigger kids in their efforts to build a sand castle. She greets me with a big, lemur-eyed smile as I scoop her up with a bear hug, speechless with emotion.

“Daddy, look at the big princess house we made!”

As parents, we have all had moments that are variants of this story above. We lose our kids. It might be for just a few seconds, or a few minutes, but the result is always the same—instant panic. As a parent, you are constantly struggling for that balance somewhere between vigilance and letting your kids just be kids and have fun. We know we need to watch our kids, but also see the detrimental effects of constantly monitoring and structuring their play. Many of us grew up in a generation where we wandered far and wide with our friends, with the only requirements to be home when the street-lights came on.

Parents are more worried today for good reason. It only takes a glance at the headlines to know our kids are not truly safe these days. According to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, there are over 800,000 children reported missing every year (meaning the disappearance was serious enough to call the police) with over 150,000 of these missing kids later categorized as either endangered or taken involuntarily.

With this level of an epidemic, you would think more would be done to stop this. But until that happens, parents need to do whatever they can to protect their children. Fortunately, a range of new devices and services have emerged, most of them taking advantage of the GPS capabilities we already have in our cell phones.

Disney Mobile’s Family Locator service and Verizon Wireless’ Chaperone Service allow parents to monitor their children’s locations in real time and be notified if they leave predefined zones. Teen Arrive Alive, provided through Nextel, does the same thing along with determining their speed and direction (should be called “Teen Arrive Grounded”). But these services are not a good fit for young children like our Caroline. For one thing, though she is quite the talker, we are not ready to give her a cell phone, with the expense and responsibility that entails (maybe when they can remember to not leave hats and mittens at school).

A better solution for younger kids, and perhaps older ones too, is the new Nu.M8 watch (pricing TBD) by UK location services company Lok8u. Available now in the UK with US launch later this year, Nu.M8 (yep, once again we’ll offer to help with their branding) is being billed as the world’s first locator device specifically designed to be worn by children. Like the cell phone services it uses a system of zones and alerts to send messages in real-time to your computer or mobile phone if your child is not where they should be. But unlike them, its GPS chip is concealed within a child’s securely fastened digital watch. Rather than relying on the child to keep the locator in their bag or pocket (we know how that goes), the Nu.M8 is wrapped around a child’s wrist until deactivated by a parent. If, in the worst case scenario, Nu.M8 is forcibly removed from the child’s wrist an alert with their location is immediately sent to you. But this might never happen because, while a potential abductor would know to toss a child’s cell phone, they may not see a wristwatch as a threat to their evil intent.

The other things I like about this device:
1) It is easy to use (just text “wru” to Nu.M8 or click “where r you” on the Lok8u secure portal to see your child’s address and Google map location).
2) Can be modified on the fly (simply text “safe+#” from your cell phone to set the new safe zone area in number of feet away from the child’s current location)
3) Is age-appropriate (my kids want a watch anyway… maybe it will help them get to the bus on time).
4) Is durable (water-proof with metal reinforced rubber strap)
5) Allows your kids the chance for a little more unstructured play with their friends, without Mom and Dad watching their every move. Maybe less TV watching as a result too.

So take a look at this watch and tell me what you think. While technology is being used to stalk our kids online, maybe it’s time we fight back and use technology against the bad guys. God forbid we ever need to rely on it to save our kids. But for those few intense, terrifying moments on the beach, in the mall, or at the parade, wouldn’t it be nice to know you had eyes, not only in the back of your head, but wrapped firmly around your child’s wrist?

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