Every year, an average of 38 children die from heat-related deaths after being trapped or forgotten in cars. Since 1998, when these deaths first started to be tracked, over 800 children have died in hot cars, and many more have become ill or hospitalized. These tragedies can occur even in milder weather - in 2019 a young boy suffered a heat stroke in the back of a car when the temperature outside was only 71 degrees.
To some, the idea of leaving a child behind or forgetting that they’re in the backseat is unthinkable, yet psychologists attribute it to a failure of “prospective memory,” which can frequently affect parents due to stress, multitasking, and sleep deprivation.
Legislators, automobile manufacturers, and innovators agree - we have to put a stop to this heartbreaking issue and prevent these deaths. In recent years, technology has been developed to address concerns and to meet the growing demand for Child Presence Detection (CPD) systems. According to UnivDatos Market Insights, the CPD system market is expected to grow to $390.3 million by 2025.
These systems continue to advance rapidly. We are likely to see CPD systems integrated into more cars on the market, using the technologies outlined below.
Rear Seat Reminder
Select automakers have already begun to implement features that could reduce the chances of adults leaving a child in the backseat of their car. Similar to the alerts that pop up if a door is left open, rear seat reminders will display on the dashboard when the car is turned off and the driver’s side door is opened, prompting drivers to check the backseat. A warning tone will also sound. The alert is only triggered if the rear door was opened earlier on that specific trip - drivers won't receive a rear seat reminder if they only used the front doors on a given day.
General Motors began adding this feature to vehicles in 2016 (this includes Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC vehicles). Nissan North America added it in 2017 and has announced that in 2022, all four-door models will come with rear seat reminders.
WiFi Sensing technology, invented by Origin, is primed to make a huge impact when implemented by auto manufacturers. Using existing WiFi waves (yes, WiFi waves can be found in modern vehicles), WiFi Sensing technology can detect movement and human presence. This technology is highly accurate and eliminates blind spots - which is especially useful in large vehicles and buses. Not only can the system detect if a child is present within a car, it can detect when a child is motionless, analyzing breathing and activity to increase the urgency of emergency action.
In 2021, 91% of new car sales in the U.S. were connected to a network, making WiFi a standard in the automotive industry. WiFi Sensing systems will be built into new car models in the near future and can be paired with in-car alarm systems and mobile app notifications/alerts to eliminate instances of children being left in hot cars.
Ultrasonic sensors accounted for 87% of the market share in 2019, though emerging technology may edge out its foothold in the next five years. Ultrasonic sensors emit ultrasounds and analyze the sounds’ reflections to detect whether an object or human is present, which then triggers a series of alerts and alarms.
Currently, ultrasonic sensors have limitations in larger vehicles such as school buses. Temperature changes and acoustic interferences can disrupt accuracy too. In addition, if a child is completely motionless or covered in a blanket, the sensors may not detect child presence.
Radar-based occupant alert systems are newer introductions to the market. Created as an alternative to ultrasonic sensors, radar systems can penetrate more obstacles to detect smaller movements such as breathing, and can analyze size to distinguish between adults, children, and pets. Hyundai plans to use radar detection technology in upcoming models. Tesla is actively seeking permission from the FCC to use millimeter-wave radar technology in its vehicles to detect whether a child had been left in a hot car.
Notably, it can sometimes be challenging for in-cabin radar systems to limit motion detection to inside the vehicle. The systems may pick up close movements outside the car, causing false alarms.
A Safer Future
Governments around the world are beginning to mandate CPD systems in vehicles. Starting in 2023, if car manufacturers want to obtain a 5 star rating from the Euro NCAP (European New Car Assessment Program), they must meet certain CPD guidelines. Other countries are expected to follow suit, including the U.S which has the Hot Cars Act in Congress and would mandate all new vehicles be equipped with an alert system to notify if a child is left in a car. Recently, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers publicly announced their commitment to innovating CPD solutions.
These collective actions give us hope. Together, we can support advancements in technologies to help make cars safer and prevent children from being left in cars.