National / Science & Health | Regional voices: Chubu

Nagoya firm's high-tech service aims to prevent sudden infant death syndrome at nursery schools

Chunichi Shimbun

Unifa Inc., an IT venture firm in Nagoya, has begun offering a monitoring service that can alert nursery school teachers to the warning signs of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the leading cause of death among babies at day care facilities.

The high-tech solution for a task that is usually handled by teachers is attracting attention as a way to sharply reduce the burden on day care staff and ensure the safety of children. SIDS often happens when infants are asleep with their face down. The company’s Look-mee service monitors infants using a sensor in their clothing that relays data to a tablet app. The firm claims the service, and its use of removable sensors, is unprecedented worldwide. The round sensors, with a diameter of roughly 4 centimeters, have formal approval as medical equipment. It monitors an infant’s breathing and checks the body position every second, a frequency impossible for humans to keep up with. If respiratory arrest or prone sleeping is detected, an alarm goes off on the tablet.

In many nursery schools, teachers check the conditions of infants every five minutes while they nap and keep handwritten records in notebooks. That makes the teachers extra busy, as they also have to watch children who are awake. The service, which includes extra checks by teachers in addition to the technological solution, can help reduce risks for infants because the alarm allows teachers to respond quickly and correct sleeping positions if needed.

With sensors for six infants the service is priced at ¥14,100 a month, with users also having to pay an initial cost for the tablets. Since the firm began offering the service in April, it has already been introduced by around 250 nursery schools — mainly in Tokyo — with some municipalities starting to provide subsidies for the digital solution.

Unifa also established a panel of experts including pediatricians and lawyers in February to utilize the accumulated data on sleeping infants in research for SIDS and other diseases. The firm hopes to further support child development from various perspectives, such as by offering advice to teachers and developing a non-contact type thermometer that can be used along with the service.

Unifa President Yasuyuki Toki, 37, said he came up with the idea of using technology to support nursery schools because his older sister was a nursery school teacher.

“Using cutting-edge technology we can swiftly recognize changes in conditions of infants who cannot tell us using words when they don’t feel well,” Toki said. “We hope to analyze the accumulated data and contribute to the prevention of SIDS and infectious diseases.”

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published June 21.

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