Nissan’s Iruyo knows when your baby is sleeping, knows when they’re awake

Almost seven years ago, my partner and I took an ill-advised road trip for a wedding with our nearly one-month-old child. In those early days, our kid cried. A lot. Loudly. In the confines of an SUV, this meant a nightmare of constantly pulling over to try, desperately and often in vain, to quell the woes of this tiny fleshy sack full of our combined genetics that has no understanding of our world.

That’s where things like the “intelligent puppet” Iruyo, a two-piece, fluffy animatronic toy with the claimed ability to recognize when a child is sleeping, ostensibly comes in. Iruyo was designed by Nissan in partnership with an ad agency and a retail baby product chain (so we’re already off to a great start) as part of a marketing campaign to promote Nissan’s driver-assistance features, according to Wired. Iruyo reportedly uses similar tech to the automaker’s radar and camera sensing abilities to watch your child’s eyes and tell you when they’re sleeping. Here, get a load of it in this ad:

So, there’s the big Iruyo — a muppet-y robot that emotes with its hands and arms and can sing songs for your kid. If it detects that they’re sleeping, it relays that info back to a smaller Iruyo, which sits up front with you and apparently closes its eyes when your child goes to sleep so you know they’re resting. You know, like what you’d use a mirror for but pricier and less informational.

Ah yes, the child is sleeping, or possibly something else.
Image: Nissan

Wired writes that a set of “specific voice commands” can trigger Iruyo to play peek-a-boo or clap. It seems designed to solve the dual problem of a crying baby and the powerful need of a parent to have a content child that they can observe but can’t because their car seat is facing away from them.

A couple of problems here. For one thing, a furry avatar that can close its eyes when my kid does won’t solve a damn thing. I have to be able to see my child’s face for more reasons than just to know if they’re sleeping or awake — somehow, I very much doubt Iruyo is equipped to let me know my kid has vomited all over the place or has attempted to swallow the hardened remnants of a french fry I missed last time I cleaned out the car seat.

Image: Nissan

The other thing is, seriously, have you ever tried to calm a baby in full panic meltdown mode? A robot that claps or whatever might, maybe, keep them from getting there, sometimes, but they’re not usually screaming because they’re bored. They’re screaming because they pooped and their butt is covered in diaper rash that you swore wasn’t there this morning, or because they’re hungry, or their stomach hurts, or their diaper is bunched up in a weird way, and it’s pinching them, or a million other possible reasons.

It’s hard to guess at a baby’s facial expressions, but I’m calling this one “wariness.”
Image: Nissan

And when they’re in that place — where their eyes are slammed shut, and they’re wailing in uncomprehending, helpless misery — the tinny song of a crappy, flailing robot toy’s speaker won’t calm them any more than soothing jazz music. Your best bet and only recourse is to put on Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind” and pray you find somewhere to turn off soon so you can change a diaper in the trunk, enduring the knowing sympathy of passing parents right along with the indignant anger of the childless while you curse the day you decided to make this trip in the first place.

But as skeptical as I am of this thing, I also recognize that no two children are alike, and neither are their parents. Maybe Iruyo could work for some folks — and besides, it never hurts to have options, right?

It’s not clear if Nissan is truly responding to parents’ needs or if it’s just cynically appealing to the feelings generated in the darkest, most sleep-deprived moments of parenthood. Big companies are constantly pitching technology to solve parents’ needs, but they don’t always nail it — see Owlet’s baby vital-monitoring socks that had to be rejiggered after a nearly two-year FDA ban or the $1,700 FDA-approved smart baby crib that apparently doesn’t work any better than a normal one. There’s nowhere near as much at stake when it comes to Iruyo, of course. Just your dollars.


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