Impact Journalism Day by Sparknews: A better home - No. 2

App to ease baby blues

It takes only 15 seconds for the app to "listen" to a crying baby and make an analysis.
It takes only 15 seconds for the app to "listen" to a crying baby and make an analysis. PHOTO: CHINA POST

TAIPEI • Researchers in Taiwan say they can figure out why a baby could be crying through an app that can tell parents if their child is hungry, tired, in pain or needs a fresh diaper.

The smartphone app, called Infant Crying Translator, is a cloud-based program that can decode the crying of babies from the moment they are born until they are six months old.

And it would take the parent only 15 seconds to get an answer.

All they have to do is tap "Record" in the app and a clip of the infant's cry is uploaded to a cloud database.

The file is quickly compared to an audio library and a verdict pops up onscreen.

Researchers collected about 300,000 sounds from 100 newborn babies at the National Taiwan University Hospital's branch in Yunlin county over three years for the database.

After winning an innovation award from Taiwan's government in 2014, the app went on sale last year and now has some 10,000 users worldwide.

Results are still not perfect but user feedback shows the accuracy could be 92 per cent for babies under two weeks old, and 77 per cent for a four-month-old baby.

"When we first launched, the app wasn't particularly accurate for babies older than two weeks," said the app's head researcher Chuan-Yu Chang.

"Now the library has many, many more sound files uploaded by users, and it can make increasingly better judgments for a wider range of ages."

With Taiwan's birthrate having slipped to one of the lowest in the world, as a high cost of living discourages people from having babies, the app's developers hope their new creation will play its part in making it easier for parents to care for their newborns, and have more babies.

Mr Chang's team is working with a leading Taiwanese original equipment manufacturer to create a bedside appliance that will let parents monitor their baby from afar. The device, slated for release this summer, has a built-in microphone that can detect crying, automatically switch on the translation program and beam the results to parents.

Mr Chang and his team have set their eyes on the global market after a data analysis shows that babies born in different countries sound mostly the same, at least in the earliest stages of their life.

"From my own experience as a father, I know that sometimes when the baby cries, the parents feel a bit like crying, too," Mr Chang said.

"Humans have emotions and they make mistakes. The app doesn't get flustered. It simply reads the data."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2016, with the headline App to ease baby blues. Subscribe