Smart Seat 'could' rescue children left in cars

17 December, 2014

Summer brings a greater risk of babies or toddlers left unattended in cars – sometimes with devastating consequences.

Last season alone, Ambulance Victoria paramedics rescued an average of four children a day from cars.

To lessen this risk Australian researcher Adrian Clark has come up with a novel innovation entitled the "Smart Child Car Seat", which he recently demonstrated to industry partners at La Trobe University's end-of-year student engineering exhibition.

The seat incorporates sensors that trigger a car alarm alerting people nearby if a child remains in a car within a certain time after the car has been parked.  

After that, it sends messages via mobile phones to parents, carers and – as a last resort – emergency services.

It has two temperature sensors, inside and outside the car, as well as a location GPS in case the driver is incapacitated or cannot be found.

"We have created a dynamic system that can be scaled in response to more life threatening conditions," Clark said.

Deadly rising temperatures

Public information campaigns remind people even on a moderate day of 25 degrees, internal car temperatures can quickly rise to between 45 and 50°C. 

Children's bodies are far more susceptible to heat stress than adults', yet figures show the message is not getting home to many people.

Clark said preparing his business case for the project revealed it wasn't just bad or negligent parents who accidentally leave their children strapped in a car.

Given the amount of information the modern car already generates, he decided this was one critical safety area that had been neglected for far too long.

"Saving just one young life would make this invention worthwhile," he said.

A potentially required safety feature

He said the system could eventually be a required safety feature for any vehicle fitted with a child seat.

"Like seat belts and airbags, it's an insurance policy that could avoid a tragic situation that you hope will never occur.  It could be the difference between a child being found in a hot car before it's too late," Clark said.

Clark said the Smart Car Seat was highly unlikely to encourage parents to leave their kids in the car.

"Unless of course they want to be constantly reminded via text messages about how poor their parenting is, and of the likelihood that they'll be caught leaving their child unattended in a vehicle – which can attract a $3690 fine or six months in jail."