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The cost of childcare is a factor in many Colorado families’ lives and budgets. A licensed childcare center in Colorado can cost up to $17,000 annually. Are you ready for a robot babysitter?

While no one wants to skimp on the quality of care their child receives, paying out a substantial chunk of your income isn’t an option for everyone. There is a new option on the horizon, one that is as interesting as it is unsettling – robot babysitter.

One of these potential products currently in development is AvatarMind’s iPal – a 3.5 foot tall, talking robot friend designed to entertain children and serve as a monitoring device.

Parents can pair their smartphone with iPal to see and hear what the robot babysitter and child are doing at any given time. iPal can dance, play games, talk and teach your child. It also learns your child’s likes and dislikes and can use the internet to find more information on topics of interest.

You can customize the robot babysitter to wake your child and walk them through their morning routine. The product is already available in Asia and is being developed for US customers. A standard version of iPal will cost around $3499. While that makes for an expensive toy, as these products grow more intuitive and capable, it may be an appealing alternative compared to the cost of expensive facilities and nannies. 

While the iPal is being marketed in other sectors as well, AvatarMind’s website claims that one potential application is “A companion/therapist for children with special needs such as Autism.” As a parent, this is alarming.

Can a robot be a substitute for a human therapist?

If AvatarMind is positioning their robots in the market as a replacement for humans, robotic babysitters are the next step. These robots are designed to make eye contact, gesture and provide a nurturing experience. While that might seem like a benefit, we need to consider the implications this has for a generation of children who are forming relationships with a robot incapable of real love and connection. While an iPal might seem like a more engaging option than having a child passively watch television, we need to carefully consider the implications of outsourcing the incredibly valuable parent-child relationship to robots. Studies have shown that infants who are read to by caregivers surpass their counterparts who spend their days playing with electronic talking toys in language skills.

These moments are also the building blocks of social and emotional development in children. Parents can take the time to listen to their children, answer questions and provide real love and support in a way that a robot can never simulate. These earliest interactions lay the foundation for empathy in our children and set the stage for relationships throughout their lives.

Other products on the market include a new generation of baby monitors that do more than just give a live feed. The Invidyo WiFi Baby Monitor (currently available on Amazon) is more than your average nanny-cam. Powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) the Invidyo will notify you immediately if your baby cries or if a stranger is detected near your baby.

The Invidyo also detects baby’s smiles and will create a 2 minute daily highlight reel for you. Parents can pair their smartphone with the device to see and talk to their baby at any time. The product currently has a 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon. Whether we like to admit it or not, AI is quickly becoming the new normal for families with small children.

Parents may balk at the thought of having a robotic assistant play such a large role in their children’s lives but many of us are already using products like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri in our family’s everyday life. As a mother of three, our Echo Dot is already a mainstay in our home. From playing music to answering questions about the universe, Alexa is quickly becoming a member of the family.

Gone are the days of sitting down as a family and opening the encyclopedia or even taking the time to search for something on the internet. If I cannot answer one of my children’s questions, they often say “Why don’t you ask Siri?” While technology is certainly making life simpler for many parents, we are entering a complex time in parenting. What price are we paying for information at our fingertips?

AI is part of parenting and will continue to grow as technology meets our growing demands. Our task as parents will be to navigate raising children in this new AI world.

Some changes come so slowly that we don’t realize our dependence on technology until it’s developed. 

While I agree that paying a one time fee of $3499 for a live in child caregiver is an attractive option, I do think that we, as parents, must look at the larger price we are paying.

What is the cost of our children’s cognitive, social and emotional development?