A Dirty Diaper Full of Data

Smart diapers are embedded with interactive labels that detect moisture, bacteria and sugar. But critics worry the invention could lead to false alarms.

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It’s easy to find data in anything, including human waste receptacles. In an effort to help sleep-deprived parents monitor their baby’s health, a New York-based startup is developing a new type of technology embedded directly in disposable diapers.

Pixie Scientific, the company behind the smart diaper, spent a year developing the smart diaper, which uses a QR code (or label) to track and determine the health of an infant through urine analysis. The label is comprised of colorful squares, which deepen in color depending on their interaction with protein, water or bacteria in the diaper.

(MORE: The Connection Between Dirty Diapers and Childhood Health)

After scanning a used diaper embedded with the labels using a smartphone, an app uses algorithms to analyze the results for abnormalities like an impending urinary tract infection, dehydration, kidney function and even type 1 diabetes. With parents’ permission, the information can even be sent to a physician who can then diagnose the child with any serious problems. But as the New York Times points out, the technology lies within the camera phone as much as it does with the interactive diaper.

Jennie Rubinshteyn and Yaroslav Faybishenko, the couple behind the idea, have partnered Benioff Children’s Hospital at the University of California, San Francisco, where the diaper will be tested this September. Due to the urine strip component, the diaper must undergo Food and Drug Administration trials in order to get approval as well. The couple is has raised more than $10,000 to help fund the project on Indiegogo and is seeking up to $25,000. (Backers who contribute $25 or more get to test the diapers starting this fall.)

While the diaper is a great idea in theory, creating an early warning system for parents who otherwise might be befuddled by their baby’s fussiness, it’s possible that the technology could actually cause more stressed for an already worn-out mother or father. As the BBC points out, the urinary analysis could produce “false positives,” resulting in too many trips to the doctor and possibly misdiagnosis.

MORE: Finally, a Huggies Device that Lets Babies Tweet When They Pee