Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tweet Tweet!

Twittering from the womb: How soon is too soon to 'tweet'?

Get an update on every kick, drop and roll from inside the womb with a new device that can connect to the Internet.

A new pregnancy belt created by an NYU grad student and worn by his wife notifies him whenever their unborn baby kicks inside the womb.
Dad-to-be Corey Menscher, whose wife, Ellen, is eight months pregnant with the couple's first baby, wanted to (at least digitally) feel each and every kick their active little pre-born babe was making.

For a class project, the second year grad student invented what he dubbed the Kickbee.
The wearable device made of a stretchable band with embedded electronics and sensors isn't exactly a model of comfort.

Small Piezo sensors attached directly to the band transmit small but detectable voltages when they are triggered by movement underneath.

An Arduino Mini micro-controller wirelessly transmits the signals to an accompanying Java application via Bluetooth.

"I have a vibrating device in my pocket at all times," says Menscher. ""Every time the baby kicks, it uploads a message to the server and I get a text message on my phone as well."

He says he chose Twitter because not only is it easy to initiate an SMS message to any mobile phone, but it also acts as a data log.

Future versions of the Kickbee belt could update sites such as Facebook, too, Menscher notes.
Though the device isn't on the market, it's received an astonishing amount of attention here and in Europe (There's a press preview tomorrow at NYU.) "I built it for myself and I didn't know there would be such a reaction," marveled Menscher, who lives on the Upper West Side.

"It's also great for couples who are away from ech other a lot." Dan O'Sullivan, an NYU professor who teaches the course for which the Kickbee was made, says the pregnancy belt shouldn't just be construed as silly.

"If it keeps fathers hanging around more, and gets them more involved with their kids, it's a very good thing," he says.

"I would say that it's the earliest utterance of a fetus over the Internet." Menscher points out that the pregnancy belt has practical applications, too.

"Our doctor said it's important for us to be aware of the baby's movements because if they decrease it could be a sign of fetal distress," he says. By monitoring the activity, the system could warn parents if fetal movement suddenly stops.

The sensors that are used in the device are the same used in other medical devices that are considered safe, says Dr. Gayle Olson, an obstetrician specializing in maternal-fetal medicine and high-risk pregnancies at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

And fetal movement is commonly used as a measurement of the baby's well being, she says.
"This is kind of high-tech and fun way to be able to keep track of the fetal kick counts," Olson says. "And since it goes out on Twitter, you could send the information to whoever you would want to share it with, such as your doctor."

In the case of Menscher's precocious gymnast-to-be, who seems to do constant backflips, the Twitter posts are quite hilarious. Like this typical post: "Wow I'm being very active! I kicked Mommy 84 times at 3:44 AM."

Don't look for Kickbees in Babies R Us anytime soon. The sensors are a little touchy, and all expectant moms may not be as cooperative as Ellen Menscher, who plans to demo the Kickbee in front of her husband's class at NYU later this week. And what did he get as a grade in the course?

"I didn't find out yet," Menscher says. "I hope I got an A." The proud parents to be haven't created a Facebook account yet for their soon-to-arrive bundle of joy.

Though it wouldn't be out of line to wonder if Menscher might be training his child to start prenatal posting on Twitter.

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