ChildFlare – keep kids safe, and improve peace of mind for Parents.

We’ve recently been playing around with iBeacons – and at Singtel Innov8′s office party here in Beijing a couple of weeks ago we were challenged with the question – ‘How could I use those to keep my child safe?’  The asker was a new parent and also a newcomer to China, having recently moved from the West Coast.  He had read news reports on child abduction in China and was worried about keeping his children safe when they are left with a helper, or when they get older and they’re left at Kindergarten and so on.

Suitably challenged, we put our consulting hats on and looked at what could be done.

Step 1 – Is the problem real or perceived?

There are two classes of problem in the world, real and perceived.  Real problems obviously require real solutions, but so too do perceived problems – there’s intangible value to making perceived problems go away.  Having said that, the way to solve these two classes of problem is different, and so we started out with – is this really a problem or is it a peace of mind issue?  So we did our research and discovered that in the US alone more than 2000 kids go missing - every single day!  Ok, so running the numbers this is a pretty small percentage still, but if we can save even one child from going missing we’d have done something worthwhile.  Conclusion – real problem.

Step 2 – Do solutions already exist?

It’s rare that you’ll stumble on a problem that nobody has tried to solve before – and if you do then it’s highly likely that the reason is because nobody encountered the problem either!  We know there’s a real problem, and so inevitably we turned up the following:

Ok, so people have been trying to solve this already, and with varying degrees of success.

Step 3 – What are the problems with the current solutions?

Real time info on where your child is at any point in time seems to be the common theme for both the GPS Tags and the Smartphone Apps.  There are a few obstacles with these solutions though:

  • Expense – can you really afford a smartphone for every child?  Even a newborn?  Replacing them when they go wrong, or get lost / broken can add up to a significant expense.
  • Battery & Maintenance – if you have to charge something every night, then it’s highly likely you’ll find yourself in a situation where your child’s phone/tag is out of battery.  It’s an added hassle on top of the million things parents need to be on top of.
  • Worst case scenario – Missing children is a broad category, from those that are lost in the mall, to those that are abducted and worse.  In the worst case scenario, these solutions quickly become ineffective.  An abductor only needs to remove the tag or discard the cellphone – and then you have nothing except for the last known location.
  • Suitability – which solution is most suitable for which age range is also a decision making factor here.  Many of the solutions seem to focus on older kids – but what about infants?  In China – going back to the original trigger for this analysis – there’s a problem with abducted infants being sold for adoption.  None of these solutions particularly well suited to that problem.
  • Effectiveness – which abnormal situations do parents need to be made aware of?  If my child is with a carer and gone to visit the mall, knowing that the child is in the mall may be giving me peace of mind.  But there are a vast range of scenarios where that would be a false sense of security:
    • Child at Mall – Carer somewhere else.  GPS won’t help you hear unless you’re tracking the carer too.
    • Child lost in the mall.  Again, unless you’re tracking the carer too – you’re not going to know.  Even with GPS you may not realise – indoor accuracy is often very poor, and your child could be a few 100m away from their carer without you knowing.

Step 4 – What could we do instead?

With our recent trials with iBeacon – we had been particularly interested in role-reversal.  Many of the commonly discussed use cases talk about fixed location beacons, and then alerting prospective customers to deals or products when they’re nearby.  All very humdrum and derivative of the last 10 years worth of indoor LBS research…

Flipping the situation around, we can see iBeacon as a tool for mobile-proximity.  Attach the beacon to the object that you want to track proximity of, and then use smartphones to know when that object is near or far.  Not dissimilar to industrial uses of RFID – but with greater applicability.  iBeacon is built on Bluetooth LE, which is supported by both Apple and Android devices.  NFC & RFID are only supported by Android devices, and as a technology still looking for a problem to solve we don’t believe we’ll ever see NFC in Apple devices.

So, bringing that idea to the problem at hand – we envisaged a solution based on the following:

  • Targeted for infants and younger toddlers
  • Address the worst case scenario and effectiveness issues
  • Simple and easy to use
  • Non-intrusive for the carer (location should only be tracked when looking after my child for e.g.)

And with that, ChildFlare was born.  Only an idea and concept, but it had a name – it was buildable and it would solve a real problem that isn’t effectively solved yet.

Stay tuned for Part #2 where we build the product at AngelHack 2013 in Beijing!

Featured image is “Father with Two Children” by Ambro on freedigitalphotos.net

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