Prototype could help save kids and animals locked in a hot car


Using GPS to determine the location and then pull up ambient temperature from a remote database sounds like how Rube Goldberg would check the temperature. If only there was a simple sensor of some kind that could accurately determine the outside temperature - what a pipe dream!


This is great idea - I’m surprised that no one has tried to tackle this problem before. Congrats to them.
(As a side note, it would be great if millennials had gone through a school system that trained them to speak articulately without constantly using verbal tics such as “like” and “you know.”)


Or you could just add a ventilation system near the top of the cabin that automatically opened whenever the engine was off and the car was locked, which would use no power and also make it a lot nicer to get into a parked car in the summer. But that wouldn’t use GPS and remote databases.


Stating “Something must be done! This is something! Therefore, this must be done!” this system is mandated as a part of hurried, feel-good legislation, over the objections of the original developers, who stated it was never their intention to replace a two-dollar thermometer sensor.

Then, as a last-minute afterthought, a failsafe is built in that automatically unlocks the car via satellite remote when the inside temperature in a locked car is more than forty degrees higher than the reported summertime ambient temperature in the zip code where the car is currently parked and locked.

Forward-thinking car thieves purchase bags of ice and stuff them through the aluminum grill of the local National Weather Service Automated Surface Observation System.

They then walk through the parking garage of the Short Hills Mall in New Jersey, casually opening each unlocked car and harvesting the contents inside.


But you have to understand that a thermometer costs like 5 cents, that’s coming right out of your pocket!

I’m guessing this bizarre solution was suggested because it could be done entirely in software on existing cars.

It seems to me that the big problem is detecting people inside of the car in a way that won’t be exploited by car thieves. For instance, the CO2 sensor is a good idea as long as you can prevent the car from unlocking itself when someone snakes a CO2 cartridge hose through the door locks on a hot summer day and triggers the unlock mechanism.

Maybe have the car’s alarm go off if it unlocks itself? But then a spurious unlock will be really apparent to a nearby thief.

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I remember Philip Greenspun complaining about this:

Suppose that you’re a sleep-deprived mother. Your infant is sleeping in the middle row of seats and you’ve forgotten all about him. You go into a store and leave him to bake in the Odyssey’s greenhouse of glass. The child starts to cry. The Odyssey has a sensitive microphone as part of its telephone Bluetooth interface. The Odyssey’s computer system is always on, waiting for a radio signal from the remote control. The Odyssey has multiple interior temperature sensors for the automatic climate control system. Does the Odyssey’s always-on computer have enough logic to say

 IF child crying in interior 
  AND car is parked and off 
  AND interior temperature is above 100 degrees
  roll windows down
  send text message to owners

? No. In fact, the Odyssey’s computer will happily sit there, with all of its sensors telling it “a child is being roasted to death”, and do nothing.

After we had just had our first child, we were taking a stroller walk after work. A helicopter was flying around, which was unusual. We found out later it was because a tired mom or dad had accidentally left a baby in their car at the BART parking lot nearby. That baby did not make it…

Really horrible stuff. So if a technology can help, please, please.

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This seems like a great idea although the way they’re going about it is overkill. Although GPS data is available everywhere in the world, a reliable data connection is not, so do you really want to trust the lives of your pets or your kids to your cell phone reception?

If I were doing this, I’d have a thermistor connected to a microcontroller to control a computer case fan in the roof and another one closer to the floor for proper air flow. It could even be simpler than that with a thermistor wired in parallel to a potentiometer so that once there’s enough power from both of them to power a relay coil the fan kicks on, but with the microcontroller you have the option of setting an actual temperature with minimal calibration, as well as the ability to control it with a smartphone.

This brings up another aspect of that using GPS data to determine the temperature from a database on the internet would require a data connection from the car, so unless you usually leave your smartphone in the car while you’re out, you would need a separate data connection.

Again, it’s a good idea, but it is a little over-engineered. Also, to save your battery, why not use a solar cell to power the fan rather than having it start up the car? Sure the A/C would cool the car better than a fan, but with gas close to 4 bucks a gallon, not burning gas might be more ideal.

Then there’s this whole other concept of leaving your pets at home and taking your kids with you or doing your shopping while they’re at school, summer camp, or a friend’s hosue.

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There are some cars out there that already have solar-powered ventilation systems that operate when the car is powered off. Seems simple enough to use the already existing exterior temperature detection that a lot of cars have and just integrate it into a similar system that relies on the battery and solar when it’s available. A simple temperature check/fan control would take such a minimal amount of electricity to run - plus all drivers would benefit from having a slightly more comfortable car to come back to.

GPS or anything additional is a bit nuts.


I have an invention too: do not leave your baby to roast inside a parked car.

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Hi! I worked on this project and would love to join in on the discourse. It’s pretty difficult to be articulate when you’re not accustomed to talking to a camera :smile:

I agree that our solution wasn’t very simple; the easiest solution (and our first thought) was to tap into the car’s internal and external temperature sensors and run our ‘proof of concept’ based on that data. After discussing our project with the Ford guys, though, we learned that the car’s open-source API didn’t offer that temperature data. We wanted to tap into what the hackable/open-source API offered, which was our reasoning for using geolocation to determine the outdoor temperature. It’s a fairly roundabout solution, but given those constraints, it worked.

My favourite part of the design process has always been exploring the fuzzy front end, where you throw spaghetti at the walls and see what sticks. We brainstormed oodles of potential solutions prior to choosing the one we went with for our proof-of-concept, and most of them relied on what-if systems that didn’t currently exist, like weight sensors in the rear seats, or CO2 sensors to detect breathing. Many of those ideas were way too grandiose, and had we decided to follow those avenues, we never would have accomplished building the proof-of-concept within the hack day timeframe.

I think, overall, one of our goals was to create a prototype that would encourage discussion and advocacy for including more safety features in modern cars. I’m really proud of what our team came up with by the end of the hack day, and I sincerely hope that car manufacturers try to explore the idea further.


Almost everyone has filler words that they use when they’re talking faster than they can form the sentence they want. Do you complain about stutterers too?

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Maybe another answer is to alert the parents when the child is left in the car in the first place?

Embed a sensor in the child seat. Then something like
If the child seat is occupied, but no other seats are, the doors will not lock.
If the car key goes out of range during this time (many are equipped with near-field sensors nowadays) the alarm goes off, and/or it sends a text to the driver.
If after 5 minutes no further action has happened use OnStar or cell service to alert the authorities.

Also, use the internal temp sensors to open the sunroof and/or slightly lower the windows and turn on the fan at full-blast to vent the hot air.


Dickheads. Why is that not part of the API?

Technology can’t fix stupid. If you can’t remember where you left your kid when it is two feet away from you, there is nothing that will correct this situation other than preventing such a person from breeding in the first place.

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Yeah, this is insanely complex. There’s this thing called a “thermostat” been around about 150 years. Interior temps rise over say 100 and the engine isn’'t running have it run a fan or something.

None of this will actually save the kid’s life of course once the sun moves around to where he or she has been imprisoned but the terminally stupid will feel better because someone “did something”.

Yeah, you already have sensors for the seatbelt warning lights (not sure if they’re in the back seats yet on new cars though.) All the rest of it is just a bit of added code in the software.

That’s the part that puzzles me. Detecting a roasting baby is a simple engineering problem; but what do you do with that information? Turn on a fan? Ring a cell phone? Robo-call 911? It seems like every answer poses new problems.

Maybe if you suited up the baby in a refrigerated onesie, powered by a fuel cell in the trunk…

Thanks for joining in the discussion. Don’t beat yourself up over the camera shy angle. While “like” and “you know” have been lambasted since time immemorial, they really aren’t that bad. They’re just relatively new in their current uses. “Like” serves a great purpose … letting your audience know that what you’re saying isn’t a precise quote or exact data.

And “you know” really is one of the more recent forms of “um” or “ah” and both of those are linguistically significant, useful pauses in speech. Overuse can frustrate but with more experience in public speaking, you’ll be more confident and end up using them less.

As for the rest, I’m guessing that if this hadn’t been a contest to use Ford’s new data system, your group probably wouldn’t have done the solution the way you did. Given the reaction here, I think we can easily extrapolate to “everyone who sees this will have 2-3 guesses how else it might have been done.” Thus in 5-10 years time, some no-internet-needed solution will probably be standard safety equipment for new cars.

Which is a big boon from my perspective. You deserve thanks for drawing attention how easy it would be to make a huge impact to this problem.

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So now the only thing a car thief needs is a recording of a crying child and a hot day?