There's a popular educational exercise in which teens are required to take care of a bag of flour for several days, as if it's a baby. The idea is that by having to lug that bag around with them everywhere they go, while keeping it from getting damaged, the kids will realize how much responsibility is involved in raising an infant. As any parent will tell you, however, there's a lot more to baby-raising than just safely lugging them around. That's why products like Realityworks' RealCare Baby were created.
We recently spotted the latest version of the interactive mannequin, RealCare Baby 3, at the International Robotics Exhibition in Tokyo. Although it's not the only device of its kind, it is one of the most recent to hit the market, and definitely among the most technologically-advanced.
The mannequin (or robot, or doll, or whatever you want to call it) is designed to be used in a training program for teens or other people, who either want to get ready for having their first child or need to be made aware of the sacrifices that would be involved in doing so. As such, it comes with a lesson plan that can be administered by someone such as a counselor.
The baby itself weighs about the same as a real infant of its size, and contains various sensors and other electronics. It will spontaneously start crying at any time of the day or night, and must be tended to by one of its "parents" within no more than two minutes – any longer, and their tardiness will be noted in an onboard data logger.
Once the parent gets to the baby, they must pick it up in a gentle manner, supporting its head as they do so. If they're rough with it, it will start crying louder, and the logger will once again make a note of their transgression. They then need to determine why it's crying – it could need changing (it comes with two sets of diapers), it could need feeding (it also comes with a bottle and breast-feeding device), it could need to be burped, or it could simply be fussing and need to be gently rocked.
Along with responding properly to its cries, parents can't just forget about the baby when it's quiet. If it's allowed to get too hot or too cold, if it's left too long in one item of clothing, or if it's kept in its optional car seat too long, parents will earn demerits. Additionally, they can't just pawn off its care on someone else. For the duration of the lesson, they're required to wear a tamperproof RF bracelet. A receiver in the baby recognizes the signal of that specific bracelet, and won't respond to the actions of anyone not wearing it.
When the lesson period is over, data is downloaded from the logger to a PC or Mac, to be assessed by the administrator with the parent. Should students need some specialized education, Realityworks also offers a Drug-affected Baby, a Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Baby, and a Shaken Baby.
Prices are available on request.