Innovation

AI Sensor Warns If Children Are Inadvertently Left Alone Inside Cars

American children keep dying of heat stroke after being left inside parked, hot cars.

These horrific and utterly preventable tragedies see the death, on average, of 39 children under the age of 15 from heat stroke every year after being left inside a parked vehicle whose windows are closed and whose air conditioning has been shut off.

Nearly every state has experienced at least one death since 1998. In 2018, a record number of 53 children died after being left inside a hot vehicle, according to statistics compiled by Jan Null, a Certified Consulting Meteorologist at the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science, San Jose State University.

Null has been tracking child heatstroke deaths in vehicles in the United States since 1998. His painstaking research has revealed that in more than half of these fatalities, the parent or caregiver forgot the child was inside the vehicle.

Null's data shows the number of child hot car deaths for 2019 currently stands at 51, making this year one of the deadliest. Higher temperatures generated by climate change add to the danger.

This problem demands a solution and Canadian researchers have developed a novel solution.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario have developed a small, inexpensive sensor that triggers an alarm when a child or children (or pets) are left alone in vehicles. The new device combines radar technology with artificial intelligence (AI) to detect unattended children or animals with 100 percent accuracy.

The device emits radar signals reflected back by people, animals and objects in the vehicle. Built-in AI then analyzes the reflected signals.

Measuring just three centimeters in diameter, the wireless, disc-shaped sensor is designed to be attached to a vehicle's rear-view mirror or mounted on the car's ceiling. It's small enough to fit in the palm of a hand. The low-power device should hit markets by the end of 2020.

The device runs on a vehicle's battery and distinguishes between living beings and inanimate objects by detecting subtle breathing movements. The system is so affordable it might become standard equipment in all vehicles.

"It addresses a serious, worldwide problem," George Shaker, an engineering professor at Waterloo, who helped invent the sensor, said. Shaker is a cross-appointed professor of electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical and mechatronics engineering.

Researchers said analysis by the device determines the number of occupants and their locations inside a vehicle. The primary purpose of the sensor is to detect when a child or pet has been accidentally or deliberately left behind inside a vehicle.

In such cases, the system will prevent vehicle doors from locking and sound an alarm to alert the driver, passengers and other people in the area that there is a problem.

"Unlike cameras, this device preserves privacy and it doesn't have any blind spots because radar can penetrate seats, for instance, to determine if there is an infant in a rear-facing car seat," Shaker added.

Information from the sensor can also be used to set rates for ride-sharing services and toll roads, or to qualify vehicles for car-pool lanes.

Researchers are now exploring the use of the sensor to monitor the vital signs of drivers for indications of fatigue, distraction, impairment, illness or other issues. Development of the sensor was partly funded by a major automotive parts manufacturer.

cars The levels of UV-A protection between the windows of different automobile makes and models were previously unknown in the United States. Photo Courtesy Carl Court/Getty Images

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