New safety features are coming to wearable technology for children, giving parents the ability to not only monitor their kids' location by GPS, but also their heart rate and temperature. The added features are also on the radar for special needs groups prone to wandering, such as children with autism or seniors with dementia.
SAFE Family Wearables is one of the new companies entering the market, with plans to start shipping its PAXIE band at the end of the summer, said Evan Lazarus, the chief technology officer for the company.
Based in Marina del Rey, Calif., SAFE set up a "mommy council" that advised the designers to add customized colors and to get rid of a panic button that could be misused by overeager tykes. They even opted to not add voice features because that can be "very intrusive to the child," Lazarus said.
"It's about knowing where they are, knowing what they're doing -- without being too much of a helicopter parent," he said.
The PAXIE band is taking pre-orders at its website, selling the device for $175. It comes with a three-pack of interchangeable band designs and three months of free data. By the fourth month, the data plan costs $9.99 to get the tracking on iPhones, Android or Amazon devices. Extra three-packs of band designs cost $10 to $15.
Designed and assembled in the U.S., the bands are water-resistant and include a 3G cellular chip so they offer true GPS functionality rather than radio frequency, which requires the searcher to be within a short range to monitor. The bands are designed so that it takes two hands to remove from a wrist.
The device allows parents to set a radius from a certain location, making sure they'll be notified if a child leaves that zone, whether a house, school, park or event. SAFE Family Wearables aims to sell 20,000 bands in the first year, and later add features such as waterproof capabilities, models designed for seniors, and a full lifestyle portal that would offer interactivity with other Internet devices people may have in their homes, Lazarus said.
Competing devices include the GizmoPal, the Filip 2, Lociloci and the HereO.
Initially SAFE will market the bands to families, but they have their eye on the demand among seniors and special needs children. Indeed, many families with children with autism are already using tracking technologies, according to Lindsay Naeder, who is the director of the Autism Response team at the international non-profit Autism Speaks.
"Fifty percent of our population is prone to wandering," she said. "And it's not scientific, but my point of view is that the other 50 percent just haven't wandered yet."
Autism Speaks knows of more than 50 individuals in their community in the U.S. who have died since 2011 while wandering away from caregivers. Of those deaths, 90 percent were drownings.
"For some reason, our kids are attracted to water," Naeder said.
The tracking devices offer an additional level of safety to some people with autism, but she emphasizes a need for a multi-layered, individual approach. Some police departments already offer free tracking devices, which tend to operate on radio frequency signals and can only be removed by the police agency, which some people don't like. Some of those are already available through grants to organizations such as Project Lifesaver, she said.
The problem is critical enough that Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, has reintroduced a bill seeking federal funds to offer more tracking devices for people with special risks. Dubbed Avonte's law, the bill is named for Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old with autism who walked out of his New York City school and who was found deceased more than three months later in the East River.
Naeder said whatever choice caregivers make, ideally the wearables should be waterproof, durable and offer strong battery life.