Smart Child Seat Aims to Prevent Tragedy

For most of us, a memory lapse is as harmless as forgetting to bring the garbage to the curb, or maybe as expensive as leaving a cell phone and cup of coffee on the roof of the car before driving off. But when the toddler sleeping peacefully in the car seat slips your mind in the parking lot, the results can be deadly.

We have no doubt that child detection systems will soon be standard equipment on cars, like backup cameras and trunk-escape levers are now. Not willing to wait, [ayavilevich] came up with his own car occupancy sensor for child seats (Update: We originally linked to the Instructable but [ayavilevich] wrote in and mentioned this is actual Hackaday Prize entry and he’s looking for more people to get involved in the project).

Dubbed Fochica, for “Forgotten Child in Car Alert,” the system is clearly a proof of concept right now, but it has potential. The Arduino Uno senses Junior’s presence in the car seat with a homebrew capacitive sensor under the padding of the seat and a magnetic reed switch in the chest harness buckle. An Android app on a smartphone pairs with a BLE module to get the sensors’ status, and when the phone goes out of Bluetooth range while the seat is occupied, the app sounds an alarm. Simple, but effective.

We like how well [ayavilevich] thought this through. Systems like this are best left uncomplicated, so any improvements he makes should probably concentrate on engineering a reliable, fieldable device. Another hack we’ve presented in the kid-safety space is fast stairwell lights for a visually impaired girl, which might provide some ideas.

76 thoughts on “Smart Child Seat Aims to Prevent Tragedy

  1. Not a bad Idea, but it wont help if your dumb-assed son gets out of the car after forgetting to put in in park, and it rolls down the driveway, across the street, and down steep bank into a clump of trees.

      1. It was his car, so it was more like ROTFL

        To his defense, it was an older Honda where you could remove the keys while the car was running. So he shut it off while in Drive, removed the keys, and got out.

        I must add when I was 5, I was waiting for my grandmother in her car and got behind the wheel. My brother flipped over the seal trying to get up front. At any rate, he knocked the car out of part, and we went through our neighbors yard (after taking out our mailbox) and ended up in a different clump of trees.My most vivid memory was watching them tow the car out. And the car wan’t totaled. I think. I was 5, after all (making this approx 1967)

        1. Car wasn’t Totalled, Do that in a vehicle made today, NVM vehicles do that now without human intervention and put lives at risk at for the sake of cost cutting through obsolescence.

          Cars are made so poorly but designed so well.

          1. Handbrakes use cables, they get soggy and cables snap. Handbrakes are good for stopping creep, but a run is best stopped with the engine. ie gears. Use both. one for creep, the other for a run.

  2. If someone can forget he/she has child in car, one should be banned from any reproduction to limit spread of stupidity gene…
    I’d call child death caused by bad memory a good case of natural selection, but that would be completely heartless and evil. On the other hand it’s true, isn’t it?

    1. @moryc – stupid on the part of the parent is not necessarily stupid on the part of the child. Nurture and Nature are not the same thing. Someone who forgets they have a child in the car should have a profound lifestyle readjustment on a first (non-lethal) occurrence. The parent should then have to suffer in the car under the exact thermal circumstances and duration as the child. I think that animals who do not die in cars, their humans should get a chance to experience their suffering as well. Being roasted to near-death is not something trivial.

    2. Haven’t left my son in the car, but… I tell you, after continual sleep deprivation, you can get pretty loopy. There are a few months in there during which I couldn’t form memories. Anyone who has gone through Army Ranger training or had to raise an infant knows what I mean.

      The trick is realizing that you’re impaired, and working around it. For which purpose, something like an electric child detector is a pretty good idea. (And make lots of lists.)

    3. Forgetting ones child in car seat is not stupidity. It is an issue of habit forming. Often times, parent who left their child in car because it is different from their routine. For example, maybe it is usually not his/her role to drop off child. Maybe it is happening in a different time of the day. Our subconscious are programmed to follow a routine.

      Accident happens. Parents whose child died in a car usually ended up with severe depression and a lifetime of guilt. Show some mercy!

    4. At the risk of feeding the trolls, try being sleep deprived then changing your AM routine and still be 100% spot on.

      e.g.

      You haven’t slept because your child was up and you were preparing for a big presentation at work. It’s usually your spouse who drives the kid to daycare and you pick them up after work. But today, they’re not feeling well and on your way out the door you agree to do drop off as well. On your way to work your focused on driving and the big meeting while your child sleeps in back, safely in their car seat.

      You get to the office, do a bang up presentation and all is well. Until you realize you forgot to swing by daycare and your child is still in the car.

      I’m sure @Moryc is one of the most evolved of the gene pool and would never make mistakes as mere mortals do. But even so, I would suggest it’s bad form to fault someone for seeing a need and suggesting a solution.

    5. @[Moryc]

      Your view is very common but unfortunately it is not particularly helpful for those poor children who die after being left in a hot car. In my country parents face lengthy prison terms for this, which I think is very unfortunate after having lost a child they certainly do love and intend to care for.

      The problem with blame shifting to the parent is that the cause of the mistake is common to all humans. The simplistic response from most people is to fault the parent because they “forgot” the child and therefore must callous and uncaring.

      The reality is that the parent did NOT “forget” the child.

      The human mind is programmable and it is programmed through repetition of sequences of thoughts or activities. Parenting is one life situations that is almost wholly about routine, sequences and repetition (I raised children as a single parent). Parents are particularly vulnerable to a condition called “scenario completion” or “scenario fulfillment”.

      In the event of a child being left in a car, the parent has NOT forgotten that child. What has happened is that all the neurons firing in the parents brain in relation to the child are being overwhelmed by all the neurons firing as a result of the programming that has occurred from the previous sequences and repetition. Because of this, the thoughts about the child cannot compete and do not reach our consciousness.

      Scenario Fulfillment is not limited to effecting one person. It can effect a whole team of people and special training to recognize this condition is given to many professionals like the military and airline pilots because of the possible catastrophic results. There is no available education for parents because it has become common and acceptable to simply blame and punish the parent. Blaming and punishing parents does nothing to prevent these occurrences. It is awareness and education that are required.

      An example of team “scenario fulfillment” –
      http://www.ginandtacos.com/2011/11/28/scenario-fulfillment/

      If this sensor system were an entry to the HAD competition, It would get my highest vote.

    6. Regardless of the reasons why this happens to people (habit, so-called stupidity, sleep deprivation, distractions, etc.) these cases do happen. I don’t claim to understand human psychology but sometimes a deterministic, reliable, technological device is a good backup. Note “backup” and not replacement of your responsibilities as a parent.

      I don’t think this will ever happen to me but I don’t want to take a chance with my lovely daughters. Not even a tiny chance. This is why I built this device and I think that using it is a responsible thing to do.

      Besides, building something like this is fun. I invite all makers and hackers with kids to build a Fochica for their little ones. Follow the project at https://hackaday.io/project/20902-fochica-forgotten-child-in-car-alert . Happy to get feedback and suggestions.

      arik@fochica

      1. I’m not against your device or anything like that. I just can’t imagine, how someone can forget something as important as own child. I have a 11 months old daughter, Ada, and I always know where she is and what she is doing, no matter how sleep deprived I might be. And I have problems with memory, like forgetting to call someone, birthdays, phone numbers, etc. But these are small things. I just can’t forget my daughter. Maybe my brain is wired differently…

        On related note: don’t you think that if someone is tired enough to forget about child should not be driving in the first place?

        1. They don’t actually forget. They are overwhelmed by a state called scenario fulfillment. It happens when there has been some change to the normal routine and yet they follow the normal routine as it becomes the “scenario” to be fulfilled. It would *appear* that they ignore change of routine but the reality is that they become unaware of the change because they have subconsciously the normal routine as being the *scenario*. There is no loss of memory or conscious decisions involved.

          1. PS: This state is not dependent on the parent being tired. Parents are often tired and tiredness certainly would not help but tiredness is NOT the cause. Their capacity to drive a car is unimpaired.

      1. But if you’re not trolling and actually care to learn more, read this:
        https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/fatal-distraction-forgetting-a-child-in-thebackseat-of-a-car-is-a-horrifying-mistake-is-it-a-crime/2014/06/16/8ae0fe3a-f580-11e3-a3a5-42be35962a52_story.html

        “The wealthy do, it turns out. And the poor, and the middle class. Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers. It happens to the chronically absent-minded and to the fanatically organized, to the college-educated and to the marginally literate. In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker. A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A Protestant clergyman. A rabbinical student. A nurse. A construction worker. An assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician. It happened to a rocket scientist.”

  3. It’s a great idea, but think it could be a failure in the market.

    The parents who are so sure they’d never need it are probably the ones that do, and the ones who are so terrified they might need it probably don’t. Though you will get some sales out of the latter.

    1. You don’t know how expensive car seats get nowadays! It is not too much to ask for a $300 car seat to equip with some weight and environmental sensors. Besides, there are baby registries.

    2. I’d like to see it become mandatory. In my country all cars have to be fitted with seat belts and there are fines for those who don’t use them. We also have specific mandated requirements for babies to use approved capsules that must be bolted down (via webbing straps) to approved anchor bolts. And also requirements for booster seats for young children.

      Cars already have a human presence sensor on the drivers seat. I call it a bum switch! When it goes faulty the locking / unlocking behavior of the key fob changes.

      It’s cant add much to the cost of the car to add another ‘bum switch’ for safety if manufacturers are willing to include a ‘bum switch’ simply for convenience.

    3. 80% of drivers believe themselves to be “above average”. Just make it mandatory so I don’t have to hear people’s bullshit justification (“I’d never do that!”) and hypercondescending posts (“Put the PARENT in there, see how they like it!”) any more.

  4. May be tie a rope between the parent and the child? It could also prevent the child from getting lost in a mall should the parent decided to take the child for shopping.

    Sleep deprivation is not a good excuse for . Should one drive semi-impaired with his/her own child in the car? No amount of safety feature is going save you from an accident.

    1. Yeah, I totally agree that one shouldn’t drive a car for a year or two after having a baby. But this is not common knowledge, and it was merely by chance that I happened to already be living a car-free life before the birth. Probably not possible for most people, so they’ll drive tired, they’ll forget things etc; that’s life, and your own parents have probably driven you to daycare after a sleepless night a few times.

      This project could possibly be made more easily by using one of those very cheap BLE beacons, and putting it in the child’s clothes somewhere. Then just set your phone to beep every time it leaves range, and you’ll get used to the situation when it should occur and when it should not.

  5. If this were a product, they would make millions. People will spend almost anything on healthcare and safety especially when the word “child” is in the same sentence. I don’t know if I would buy one but this feels very close to something I’d throw $10-$20 at if it came standard on car seats.

  6. I’m sorry. I know this is going to anger some snowflake… but if you need something to remind you that your child, that you yourself put in the car, is in the car, then you do not need to be a parent. I saw a news story a year or two ago when the idiot rate went up in this country and they actually said… “to help remind you that your child in in still in the car seat, place your cell phone or briefcase in the back seat.” Because by God you’d NEVER leave your cellphone or brief case in the car. That right there sums up the morality, responsibility, common sense and overall fitness (or lack thereof on all counts) of this new world.

    1. I can’t imagine it happens very often, and certainly not often enough to warrant putting a system in every car in the world.
      But it can happen, and when it does it is likely a special circumstance that causes it. Like for instance dad having the kid in the car when he normally doesn’t have it in the car without mom. Or something like that.
      Oh and then there is the massive use of prescription drugs that “mellow out” people and as a side effect causes them to forget things. You should look up the numbers, it’s staggering how many people use various prescribed psychotropic substances. It’s not good, but it’s reality.

      1. tl;dr … I did skim it, though. I’m not sure how that is supposed to affect my opinion, but I stand by what I said. I don’t care if the Pope were to leave his kid in the car (obvious problems with that notwithstanding) I would still feel the same way.

    1. Cool find. Thanks for sharing. There have been different designs to prevent such tragedies.
      This “ti” design has a mode of operation that is similar. With Fochica you can do that and more using an Arduino and an Android smartphone. No need for a special smartwatch.

  7. If one is the type to forget a child in the car, one is the type to ignore the warning or not arm the system. I rate this with autonomous petrol powered lawn mower. An interesting idea, but a dangerous approach once you think about it. This is a situation that requires a capable adult to be responsible for a life, and this responsibility cannot be delegated to a machine.

    1. You have a good point. This is why it was an important design requirement that Fochica would not be a warning or a reminder. It is an alert that happens if the adult leaves while a child seat is occupied. It would be difficult to ignore such an alert. The system also doesn’t need arming or disarming. Take a look at the page of the project for more information.

        1. The first two are lapsed, and the last one expires in 4 years. Also, designing around this patent wouldn’t be impossible.
          I’d look at the clause that says “a receiver controller coupled to the receiver and having a timing function, the timing function timing to a time interval wherein, at the completion of each time interval, the receiver controller (i) repeats the timing function when the at least one encoded signal is sensed by the receiver or (ii) issues an alarm signal when the at least one encoded signal is not sensed by the receiver”. Basically, it’s a watchdog. Eliminating it reduces the utility of the system somewhat, but you get entirely around this patent by eliminating it – at least for the next 4 years.

      1. That’s why it’s always a good idea to perform a patent search for prior art on the USPTO site or Google Patents. There are plenty of “solutions” based on proximity (distance between the driver and her car) and they didn’t sell so far. My reminder/lifesaver, never4get.us, is way more reliable and affordable than NASA’s attempt …


  8. Step 1:
    Take off shoe.
    Step 2:
    Place shoe next to infant in back seat.
    Step 3:
    Drive to work.
    Step4:
    Arrive at work and notice you are missing a shoe.
    Step 5:
    Remember your shoe and child.

    How we did it in the 80’s.

          1. This is really a case of unintended and unexpected consequences. I don’t know if the number of lives saved by moving the child seat to the back has exceeded the number of lives lost (and other lives utterly destroyed) by this phenomenon. Who could have imagined that so many responsible and loving parents could end up in this tragic situation?

  9. Indeed. I know of someone over here who is basically unemployable, having served 1.3 years due to some three year old running out in front of their 24mph quadbike with no warning at all, and sadly been killed.
    He now will not drive, has handed over his license and has basically thrown in the towel sitting on benefits because no employer will touch him with a barge pole despite it clearly being an accident.
    Actually the courts did mention that in a situation like this, showing remorse actually makes things worse (!) WTF.

    This is exactly why self driving cars should have far more failsafes, the second a fatality occurs the screaming mobs with pitchforks and flaming torches will have the technology banned forever.
    Yet idiots who drive while tired, drunk, stoned are 1000* more dangerous and really having AI oversight on all vehicles might be beneficial in the longer term (eg autobrake, hazard avoidance)

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