Thursday, March 21, 2013

Getting Baby to Sleep Through the Night : Review of Foscam Wireless IP Infra-Red (IR) Camera

We all know our lives change when the first baby is born. What we hear less of, is when does it take a turn for the better again. I would say this happens when your baby is finally able to sleep through the night, and this is not something you should leave to chance! And this is about how technology can help.

When my firstborn arrived, we were thrown into the world of night duties, disrupted sleep and permanent eyebags. Having a confinement nanny didn't help because the nanny really spoiled the baby - patting and carrying him at the slightest sound. When she left, we had a time bomb on our hands - one that would go off at all times both day and night. My wife bit the bullet and sleep-trained him using the Gina Ford routine, so finally, after about 6 months, he was finally able to sleep through the night on his own. Well, for the most part anyway. Every few nights, we would still be awakened by his crying.

Every time he cried at night, we would rush to him. But what we discovered was that he was actually crying in his sleep! (Not an uncommon occurrence, apparently.) The problem is that when we opened the door to his room and rushed in to pat him, we would really wake him up. And then it would be a hard time getting him to go back to sleep. We developed ways and means to cope with this - for example we would set a time limit: we only go in to check on him if he cries for more than 15 minutes. But like every good father, I wanted to do better. I wanted to fix the problem. And I knew technology could help. What we needed, was to be able to check on him without opening the door and bringing light into the room.

So 2 years ago, I went about searching for a wireless infra-red camera. Wireless cameras are a dime a dozen, you can buy them anywhere. But an infra-red camera is a different story. I tried Sim Lim and Funan Centre. I also tried some of the mega tech malls in Akihabara in Tokyo. But the cameras I found there cost hundreds of dollars; that's more than I was willing to pay for a good nights sleep (ok, I'm just cheapo). Finally, I found it!

This is the Foscam FI8910W Pan & Tilt IP/Network Camera with Two-Way Audio and Night Vision which you can buy for under USD100 on Amazon.com. And today, it is a lot easier. Foscam has set up their own webfront right here in Singapore! You can browse their local selections here.

The camera is a cinch to set up. One thing to remember is that while the data is wireless, power is not. So you must have a power socket at a suitable location. It can be controlled easily through the web interface on a laptop or iPad, and there are apps (example) to control it through smartphones too. Finally, instead of wondering whether we should go check on the crying baby, we just reach over to turn on the iPad. If his eyes are open or he is sitting up, we go comfort him. But this was hardly ever the case. Most of the time, we just turned off the baby monitor and went back to sleep.

Here's an image sample from the infra-red camera wall-mounted above the cot

The model which I used had no sound, but the latest one apparently has two-way audio. You can even talk to your baby! So this could even be a complete replacement for your baby monitor system! Some of the other useful features I found were:
  • Control pan, tilt and zoom; turn the IR off and on remotely
  • The camera can be accessed from the internet (not just your home LAN), so occasionally we would go out for dessert and still keep an eye on sleeping baby
  • The camera can be connected to a NAS which allowed video recording either at pre-defined times or using the motion sensor (check if your NAS supports this feature)
There was one concern which arose, that a friend pointed out, which was that the IR rays could damage the baby's eyes. I did much internet research into this, but could not find any authoritative or conclusive findings on this danger. But to be safe, we only turned on the IR lamp when we wanted to check on the baby. This could also be done remotely from the web interface.

The best part is after a while, maybe because we stopped interrupting his sleep, or maybe because it is the natural course of things ... he stopped crying at night! But even then, it is still useful if we are just wondering if he is asleep yet, but don't want to risk disturbing him by opening the door.

This little toy changed our lives, and I hope it is of use to others as well. Send this to your father friends who need a good nights sleep!

The cutest baby is a sleeping baby 
(This colour photo taken using a Panasonic compact with large aperture, not infra-red)