We're all used to social sharing, and seeing Instagram photos of the lovely restaurant meal eaten by strangers is pretty much a regular part of many Netizens' day. Some may think we're in an era of over-sharing, though of course Mr Zuckerberg would wildly disagree. But a new gadget from startup BabyWatch may push us into the era of ultra-sharing, quite literally. Comprising a portable ultrasound generator, dedicated smartphone app, and a social platform, BabyWatch is about sharing recordings of the tiny fast-paced boom-boom of an unborn baby's heart over the Internet.
The device seems quite clever, with the simple ultrasound communicating with a smartphone over an audio cable (seemingly using a data hack somewhat similar to the way the Square credit card reader works). The app decodes the signals, then generates a visualization of the sound of the heartbeat on the screen and keeps track of the fetal heart rate. The data can be shared over traditional social networks, because even Granny would like to hear that heart beating, and she's pretty likely to be a silver Tweeter nowadays. But BabyWatch also has its own GlobalBeat social network to offer future moms, with the ability to track their pregnancy and discuss their experiences with other moms-to-be using the app.
The goal is to appeal to first-time moms, perhaps tech fans themselves, who may appreciate the support that such an online community may offer. Similarly moms who've previously been through a difficult pregnancy may be interested in the device. To make it directly useful, the app can also act as a pregnancy medical checkup calendar and it has prenatal tips to read, plus there are plans to add extras like a kick counter.
It all sounds great at first blush. Having two young kids, your writer here loved the experience of hearing the heartbeats at every checkup with the nurse. But my wife was lucky enough to experience straightforward pregnancies. The worry with a device like BabyWatch is that it could actually lead to increased angst in expectant mothers who feel the system may be telling them something is wrong with their baby. That's one of the reasons why the FDA has said it plans to regulate apps that emulate proper medical systems.
On the other hand, BabyWatch may spot an early warning sign of trouble, and that could be a good thing, so it's a hard one to call. BabyWatch's plans are said to include a remote monitoring connection to doctors' offices, which would certainly make that worry less of a concern.
There's just one final question about all this, too. Is it a sign that the era of the quantified self knows no bounds?
[Image: Flickr user Lars P.]