Child monitoring reaches a new level (Image: Yuriko Nagano)
Yoko Ihara is watching her 5-year-old son Yoshinobu playing at a nursery in Tsukuba, Japan. She works full-time, and wonders how Yoshinobu gets on when they are apart. In this way, she's like many other mothers.
Yet for the next five weeks, Ihara will gain insights into her child's life that few parents have before.
She and Yoshinobu are taking part in an experiment to test a unique child safety device. The technology builds on existing devices that can track the location of a child, but this gadget also monitors what the child is seeing, and even their pulse.
If a child's heart rate is faster than usual, it snaps a photo of their point-of-view and alerts parents via email.
The device's makers, a team led by Seung-Hee Lee at the University of Tsukuba, say carers could use it to identify bullying, for instance. It could also reveal if a child is separated from other device-wearing children for a given stretch of time.
A password-protected website allows parents to access an activity log and photos taken during the day.
During the trial, 10 children aged 2 to 6 will wear the 97-gram device for several hours a week. As well as a camera, it holds an accelerometer with gyroscope, a GPS receiver and a digital compass. The heart rate monitor sits under clothing.
Future experiments are planned for school children aged 6 to 11 in Japan, with an additional microphone that can pick up and store the wearer's conversations.
Kenji Kiyonaga, who researches child safety at Japan Women's University in Tama, Kawasaki, says the technology is intrusive, but would be tolerated in Japan, at least in the near future. "Standards of privacy are low here," he says.
"In the US or Europe, there would be much more controversy surrounding such child-tracking devices." Even if it's lightweight, the strap would feel oppressive for the child, he adds.
Lee brushes off such criticism. "I'm a mother and I'd say that if it's a parent's choice between a child's privacy and keeping them safe, most would choose the latter," she says. The strap has been carefully designed to be comfortable, she adds.