Since 1994, it has been recorded that over 800 children in the United States alone have died from heat-related illnesses after being left in cars. In fact, in approximately 55% of these deaths, the parents were unaware that they had even left their child in the car. While most parents would never think that this could happen to them, research scientists from Israel based company Guardian Optical Technologies have recently developed a car sensor that could prevent these deaths from ever occurring again.
Children and Hot Cars: Heatstroke and Death
While the “greenhouse effect” typically applies to the gradual heating of the planet from radiation that is present within the atmosphere, a similar reaction takes place when you get out of your car and leave it outside on a hot day. The sun emits short wave radiation, which is capable of entering a vehicle from the windows and eventually hits the seats, dashboard and other internal parts. This radiation energy is then transformed into heat energy in the form of long wave radiation. This rapid increase in heat energy, combined with the complete insulation of vehicles, can allow for temperatures within the vehicle to increase by 15 degrees in as little as two minutes. In fact, if it is only 75 °F outside, within 20 minutes, the inside temperature of the car can reach to up to 104 °F and only continues to increase as time passes1.
When a child, animal or elderly person is left in a car on a hot day, they often succumb to the devastating effects of heatstroke. When a person’s temperature exceeds 104 °F, their internal ability to regulate their temperature is overwhelmed, resulting in a cascade of symptoms. These symptoms can begin as dizziness, disorientation, agitation and confusion, and eventually lead to seizures, loss of consciousness, tachycardia (rapid heart beat) and hallucinations2. As the individual’s temperature surpasses 107 °F, their cells die and eventually lead to organ failure and death. Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of heatstroke, as their thermoregulatory mechanisms have not fully developed, which causes their body temperature to rise much more quickly than an adult.
Preventing Hot Car Deaths
After the Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seat Act (HOT CARS Act) was passed in the United States in 2017, a number of vehicles have gone through sensor technology improvements to ensure that children are safe from potential heatstroke deaths in cars. For example, General Motors has recently introduced the “Rear Seat Reminder,” an alert technology within their vehicles that reminds parents to check their back seat before leaving the vehicle. While this added feature does not specifically detect the presence of children in the back seat, it provides an extra reminder for drivers regardless of what they have in their car at that moment.
The Guardian Optical Sensor
Guardian Optical Technologies, a sensor technology company based in Tel Aviv, Israel, was recently awarded a $5.1 million grant to accelerate their newest stand-alone automation system. This new software combines two-dimensional (2D) video image recognition, three-dimensional (3D) depth-mapping and both micro- and macro-motion detection to ensure the safest and most passenger-aware vehicles.
With only one sensor that is placed in the center of the car, this sensor constantly scans the car and collects data through its highly sensitive motion detection system. This sensor is capable of identifying the location and physical dimensions of every occupant in the vehicle, as well as their slightest movements, including every heartbeat present in the vehicle at a given moment3. Aside from its unique ability to distinguish through individuals in the vehicle, Guardian Optical also expects that this sensor will be cost-effective for car manufacturers, as it eliminates the need for multiple sensors to be installed throughout the car.
As the automotive industry is becoming increasingly autonomous, the Guardian Optical sensor is expected to not only recognize when a child is left in the car, but could also initiate a number of alarms, turn the air condition on and even call emergency responders for help.
- “Hot car deaths reach record numbers in July” – CNN
- “Medical” – NoHeatStroke.org
- “Guardian Optical Technologies Raises $5.1 M to Accelerate Development of Breakthrough Sensor Technology for ‘Passenger-Aware’ Cars” – Business Wire