Reports of animals and children trapped in sweltering cars have become a common occurrence during hot spells, and now scientists have developed a sensor that could save lives.
The device works by triggering an alarm when youngsters or pets are left alone in vehicles.
The sensor, developed by researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada, combines radar technology with artificial intelligence (AI) to detect unattended children or animals.
Researchers say it does this with 100% accuracy.
At just 3cm in diameter, the sensor is small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, and it is designed to be attached to a vehicle’s rear-view mirror or mounted on the ceiling.
It sends out radar signals that are reflected back by people, animals and objects in the vehicle, and the AI then analyses the signals.
The device runs on the vehicle’s battery and distinguishes between living beings and inanimate objects by detecting subtle breathing movements.
George Shaker, an engineering professor at the University of Waterloo, said: “It addresses a serious, worldwide problem.”
The device determines the number of occupants and their locations in a vehicle. That information could also be used to set rates for ride-sharing services and toll roads.
However, its main purpose is to detect when a child or pet has been left in a vehicle – a potentially deadly situation in extremely hot or cold conditions.
In such cases, the system would prevent vehicle doors from locking and sound an alarm to alert the driver, passengers and other people in the area.
Prof Shaker said: “Unlike cameras, this device preserves privacy and it doesn’t have any blind spots because radar can penetrate seats, for instance, to determine if there is an infant in a rear-facing car seat.”
Development of the wireless, disc-shaped sensor was funded in part by a major motor parts manufacturer which is aiming to bring it to market by the end of next year.