Five gadgets to upgrade your parent skills

Jonathan Margolis on a rocking robocot, a storytelling sleep monitor… and more

Snoo cot, £995
Snoo cot, £995

Snoo cot

This newborn baby’s crib is the invention of Dr Harvey Karp, America’s most famous paediatrician, along with a roboticist from MIT. The Snoo “responsive bassinet” is designed to recreate the environment of the womb – thereby soothing newborn babies suffering with colic and sending them to sleep. “It’s noisier than being close to a vacuum cleaner in there,” Dr Karp tells me, demo-ing the product with its spooky, pulsing white noise and side-to-side movement that increases the more the baby howls. The baby is also tightly swaddled and anchored to keep it from rolling onto its side or front.

More than 60,000 Snoos have been sold in the US and it’s now available in the UK. The first-time parents of a newborn I asked to test it in London were worried about how intense it was and soon gave up on it. But I think the principle is sound and, as the veteran of several colicky babies, I would buy one unhesitatingly. For me, this robocot is the first household robot worthy of the name. £995, happiestbaby.co.uk

Owlet smart sock, £269
Owlet smart sock, £269
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Owlet smart sock

The first thing my son did when his baby was born last year was to pair him with his phone, making him possibly one of the UK’s first Bluetooth babies. OK, he didn’t quite pair the baby. He paired with Owlet, a tiny washable sock that monitors an infant’s heart rate and blood oxygen using pulse oximetry tech. Parents should get an immediate phone alert should anything be amiss. Owlet is not an easy gadget to test, and I’m glad to say our test baby didn’t do anything to alert it, but the parents reported feeling much more relaxed with an Owlet-equipped infant snoozing in his crib. The brand has been watching over babies in the US for a little longer than the rest of the world, and early UK buyers found the app lacked some of its US counterpart’s features. But I am assured the UK app is now nearly identical. £269, owletbabycare.co.uk

Remi sleep trainer

What kind of a children’s alarm clock makes it into the New York Museum of Modern Art store? In the case of this one, it helps being French and, bizarrely for a product designed for kids between newborn and 10, really rather chic. Remi is an intelligent alarm clock, although with everything laying claim to being intelligent these days, that’s perhaps pretty standard. However, it is a friendly-looking clock that will train children to know what’s the right time to get up – if they wake up too early, it shows rather a stern face; if they wake up when mummy and daddy want, they see a smiley face. It’s also a baby monitor, adjustable night light, music player, alarm, wireless speaker, sleep tracker and diary. Oh, and it has a storytelling function. My deputy product testing executive, a two-year-old nephew, developed something close to a friendship with Remi and insisted his parents buy him one. For anyone worried about child monitors being open to hacking, it’s worth noting Remi can perform most of its tricks sans WiFi. It also comes in a variety of colours. We tried the blue, but nephew opted for the yellow, as I think I would have at his age. €89, urbanhello.com

Remi sleep trainer, €89
Remi sleep trainer, €89 | Image: Hugh Threlfall
RVR robot, £249.99
RVR robot, £249.99

RVR robot

Gadgeteer Sphero, from Boulder, Colorado, has been wowing fans of robotics and playful electronics for more than a decade. I made a Technopolis TV video last year on its Specdrums colour-sensitive finger rings for music making.

With this, though, it has launched its most ambitious product yet – a programmable Mars rover-style robot, RVR, which your child can start programming within minutes using its intuitive app.

The beginner’s level involves sliding instructions on coloured blocks into a sequence on your phone. Watching the machine dashing around on your orders is weirdly gratifying. Onboard sensors include colour and light detectors, infrared, a magnetometer, an accelerometer and a gyroscope.

Later, your child can graduate to real coding and start customising machines with accessories such as robot arms to create almost whatever you want, from a device to play with the cat to a robot that will roll around the house while you’re all away and report on how things are looking. £249.99, amazon.co.uk

MyFirst Drone, £35
MyFirst Drone, £35
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MyFirst Drone

While MyFirst Drone, by Singapore’s Oaxis, is perfect for children who are nagging for a drone, it’s also weirdly distracting for non-children.

It’s a rechargeable drone with no controls that wafts randomly, like a skittish miniature UFO, around a room – or outdoors – avoiding (most) objects, walls, etc, thanks to its five anti‑crash sensors.

The 11cm-diameter device also has sensors to avoid it going too high. The instructions say you start it by throwing it in the air, but I had more success just dropping it. The rotor blades are in a cage, so it’s safe, and with a couple of myFirst Drones, all kinds of chasing and catching games could ensue. The box promises that myFirst Drone provides a “family bonding indoor activity”. And I would endorse that. £35, selfridges.com

@thefuturecritic

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