A team of Israeli scientists has developed a new, machine learning-based thermal sensor that could help prevent parents from forgetting their babies and toddlers in cars, which can lead to vehicular heatstroke, hyperthermia and even death.
According to the safety organization Kids and Cars, an average of 37 American children die each year in hot cars. These include instances where a child has been forgotten in a car, accidentally locks themselves in a car or trunk, or, in a small number of cases, when a child has been intentionally left in a car.
There have been instances in Israel, as well. Last April, for example, a two-year-old boy died after he was left alone in a car in the northern town of Rechasim, police said. The boy was found after five hours.Temperatures in the town reached a high of 26°C (79℉) on the day of his death.
In July 2013, three Israeli children died in the first two weeks of the month from being left in hot cars. Those deaths included an 18-month-old girl who was left inside a car for five hours in the West Bank settlement of Dolev; a 5-month-old baby who was left in a car for seven hours in Shiloh, also in the West Bank; and a 9-month-old girl who died after she was left in a parked car in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan.
Between June and early September, Israel temperatures are usually quite high, averaging between 27°C (80℉) and 32°C (90℉).
The new system was created by Technion undergraduate students Adam Barhak and Assaf Yitzhak under the guidance of doctoral student Ayal Taitler and master’s degree student Dotan Shambi. It is based on a relatively simple and inexpensive thermal sensor installed opposite the baby seat in the back of the vehicle. The sensor produces an image of the child and transfers the data to a tiny computer, which processes the information and issues an alert.
According to a release shared by the Technion, the system activates a sequence of alarms in a closed loop that expands according to time passed and the temperature of the vehicle. First a warning light is turned on, followed by a warning beep, and if necessary, notification by text messages to an expanding loop of people who could remotely open the car doors and windows.
“We asked ourselves how it was possible that no effective technological solution has been devised for this problem,” said Barhak, noting that the various solutions offered to date, such as continuous monitoring of the weight placed on the car seat, are unsatisfactory. “We decided that we needed to change direction and embark on a new concept – an advanced and cheap thermal sensor that transfers the data to a system that is able to learn, analyze and rapidly make correct decisions.”
The solution comes at the right time of year. According to noheatstroke.org, 809 children have died due to Pediatric Vehicular Heatstroke (PVH) since 1998. At least 90% of reported childhood hot-car deaths in the US occurred between April and September.