An eye in the sky

Parents can keep an eye on their children in nursery - by Internet. By Stephen Pritchard

Child care is big business. As the number of working parents continues to rise in Europe and North America, so does the demand for creches and nurseries. In the US alone, there are some 80,000 creches or day-care centres.

Most nurseries are good and safe, but the rogue nanny has become an American middle-class nightmare, driven by films such as The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and a few well-publicised abuse cases.

Although the fears are mostly unfounded, they are natural enough; many parents feel a slight emptiness in their stomachs when they leave Junior in the hands of a stranger.

In the United States, day-care centres operate an open-door policy. Parents can visit at any time without alerting the teachers, but child-care experts say it disrupts and unsettles the children, as well as taking a chunk from the parents' working day.

An alliance between a Swedish and a US company believes it has a better alternative. The solution, known as KinderCam, provides a continuous feed of pictures from the creche to the Internet.

Parents can use any computer with a Web browser such as Netscape to log in at any time and see what their son or daughter is doing. The system is protected from prying eyes by a user number, unique to the child, and a password. Even authorised parents can only see the room their child is in at the time, but there is nothing to stop parents giving distant relatives the authority to log into KinderCam's Web site. ParentNet, which operates the system in the United States, already has one set of grandparents in Israel who use the Web site.

The idea is North American, but the core technology, a Web camera called the NetEye 200, comes from Axis Communications, based in the Swedish university city of Lund. Axis specialise in "thin servers" - devices with just enough intelligence to work autonomously, but simple enough to cost far less than a conventional computer-based server.

According to Axis, adding a thin server to a network, whether a camera, print server, or CD-Rom system is as easy as plugging in a few wires. In creches, this means the cameras can be placed out of harm's way.

The NetEye delivers two frames a second to the ParentNet host computer, using JPEG file compression to keep the files to around 25kb. The effect is more like slow motion than real-time video, but the images are compact enough to view over a modem connection.

Currently, there is one operational KinderCam system, in a day-care centre in ParentNet's home state of Georgia. Three cameras cover the creche, which looks after 150 children. The installation, including a fixed link to the Internet, cost $15,000 - a cost recouped by subscriptions from parents. Axis says 80 per cent have signed up.

The US market has huge potential, says Jeff Mesnik, Axis' product manager for the NetEye. He estimates that there could be 2,000 KinderCam systems within 18 months. Nor is it limited to the Internet - 6,000 US companies provide creche facilities in the US, and it should be easy to add a NetEye to their intranets.

Mikael Karlsson, Axis chairman and CEO, points out that the KinderCam is just one possible application for the Web camera. Other areas include monitoring manufacturing lines, and security. The NetEye has an IO port which can activate the camera, for example, if an intruder crosses an infra-red sensor beam. Axis is also talking to banks about installing the NetEye at cashpoints to deter theft and "phantom withdrawals".

This would be simple to implement in Europe, as cashpoints are already networked to the banks' central computers. Nurseries, generally, are not online, and the cost of connecting them to the Internet, along with a smaller market of computer owning parents, might hinder KinderCam's take- up in Britain.

Concerns over privacy may also get in the way. "We don't like to look at it as surveillance," Mesnik says. "We focus on areas where people are not going to be offended by it"n

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
David Silva strokes home his and City's second goal
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value

Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Charter Selection: Graphic Designer, Guildford

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Charter Selection: This renowned and well establish...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas