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Japan's already-safe streets could become even safer for children

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Melanie Stetson Freeman / The Christian Science Monitor

(Read caption) Children in daycare make their way to the neighborhood park to play. A new GPS device will help Japanese parents keep track of their children.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

The streets of Japan are some of the safest in the world for children as the country has one of the lowest crime rates. But that hasn’t stopped a Japanese research team from developing a powerful weapon to ward off would-be child predators.

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At a day-care center in Ibaraki prefecture, a short trip from Tokyo, a team led by Seung-Hee Lee at the University of Tsukuba tested out a new child safety device last month. The gadget takes existing GPS child trackers to a whole different level. It not only locates a child, but it also reads the direction the child is facing as well as his heart rate. It has “eyes” (a camera) and snaps a photo from the child’s viewpoint if a child’s heart rate, for example, gets unusually high. Parents can go to a secure, password-protected website to check photos and any other collected data.

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“The devices were designed to be light, comfortable, durable, and look ‘cool’ so the children wouldn’t mind wearing them,” Ms. Lee says of the small colorful triangles worn strapped to the chest.

The trackers, which researchers say could be manufactured for about $600, are still a ways off from being ready for market. “It’s great to know where my children were and what they were up to, but many of the photos were out of focus,” says Rikako Nakamura, whose children, ages 4 and 6, participated in the experiment. Lee said they were addressing such kinks.