Dr. Noel Sharkey, professor of robotics at Sheffield University, understands why parents might choose robots for childcare:
"I can see the benefits of these childcare robots for busy professionals", says Sharkey. "Adults can log into the robot from the Internet or from their mobile phones. They can direct the robot and see through its cameras, they can even speak to the children through the robot's voice..."
A mechanical companion and preceptor for children is much more than just a baby monitor or other such device. He asks:
"This may be quite safe and entertaining but what kind of role model is a robot? Could this lead to a generation of social misfits? What does this say about the value placed on children in society?"
I'd add that parents are also in danger of falling under the spell of these excessively cute robots and their wide range of features is not limited to childcare; see this video of the iRobi robot childcare device from Yujin Robotics of South Korea.
As far as I know, the earliest reference to the idea of a childcare robot is from David H. Keller's short story The Psychophonic Nurse, which appeared in Amazing Stories in 1928.
"I had her made by the Eastinghouse Electric Company. You see, she's just a machine nurse, but as she doesn't eat anything, is on duty twenty-four hours a day, and draws no salary, she's cheap at the price I paid."
"...When I ordered this machine ... I bought a phonograph with clock attachment. It will run for twenty-four hours without attention. Then I had a baby doctor work out a twenty-four hour programme of infant activity for different ages. Our baby is about two months old. You put this phonograph with the two-month record on it in the nursery... At definite periods of the twenty-four hours the phonograph will call out a number and the nurse will do what is necessary...
(Read more about the psychophonic nurse)
Readers might also remember the robot nanny from Philip K. Dick's 1955 story Nanny. The artificially intelligent Veldt from Ray Bradbury's 1951 story is the first virtual reality environment for children. And, for those of you with very small children, Keller also thought about electric diapers with built-in alarms.