Don’t Forget The Baby!

It must be a common worry among parents, that they might forget their offspring and leave them in the car where they would succumb to excessive heat. So much so that [Matt Meerian] has produced an alarm that issues a verbal reminder to check for the youngster when the vehicle is turned off.

It’s a simple enough device, with an ATmega328, an off-the-shelf MP3 module, and a power supply regulator to deliver 5 V into a pair of supercapacitors from the vehicle accessory socket’s 12 V. The idea is that the  power is cut when the vehicle ignition is turned off, and that the supercaps have enough energy within them to play the reminder sample for the driver to check for forgotten children.

We can’t help remarking that a percentage of cars leave their accessory sockets turned on all the time, so it would be interesting to ponder how one might detect the car being turned off in that case. He muses about using a surplus cell phone instead of his ATmega328, perhaps the MEMS sensor on a phone could also be used to detect the vibrations of the engine stopping as it was turned off. Such cars notwithstanding, this unit is a straightforward solution to the problem in hand.

47 thoughts on “Don’t Forget The Baby!

  1. ” It must be a common worry among parents, that they might forget their offspring and leave them in the car ”
    Any parent that would “forget” their kid in the car should be instantly branded and have a tattoo put on their forehead saying “I’M a IDIOT”

    1. No way to know if you have kids or not…

      Early on (first few months) kids can be VERY quiet in car seats (the car puts a lot of kids to sleep). Couple that with the fact that new parents aren’t always getting much sleep (for the first 6 mos or more), and it’s something that can happen to even responsible parents.

      I think this shows responsibility on the part of the hacker to create a reminder for himself or whomever drives the car.

      1. It does not matter if they are quiet and asleep io the car or how tired one is. That is NO excuse. If a person knows they are short on brains and is that forgetful, they should have never had the kid in the first place.
        Just utter insane that someone would be so mindless to forget a baby in the car. Sounds to me is more of a matter that that parent should no be breeding to allot that stupidity to contribute to the gene pool.

          1. Mike does not have a kid.
            And I can say that with as much certainty as he apparently can about how people must be stupid if they forget a kid in the car.

            Mike is probably damn near perfect. I bet he’s never forgotten anything under any conditions, ever.

            No doubt it’s a terrible, terrible thing to leave a helpless child in a car, but I’ve seen it happen first hand and can understand the situations in which it might happen. Especially now that I have my own.

          2. I agree that “dead kids in cars” was no accident. I believe it was first degree murder. After a couple of “parents” tried it and their actions were reported by news agencies, other parents saw that it was a viable way to murder their children and get away with it.

        1. Most parents exist in a state of sleep deprivation for the first 2-3 years of a child’s life. Once it gets better, some of us have a another one. I’m a heavier sleeper, but my wife went about 8 years without being able to sleep through the night.
          When you exist like that, it’s amazing what you can forget. A friend of ours was left in her child seat at the roadside as her mum forgot to put the seat in the car and drove off. That was 20 odd years ago, and she was fine.

          However, accidents are probably most likely to happen when there’s multiple kids and 2 parents, and you both think the other one has one of the kids, or when routines are changed.

          1. I suspect my mother forgot me in the car once. Not even seatbelts in the back then, never mind child seats… it was a longish drive from my grandma’s and sun setting. I was about 5, laid down and fell asleep across the back seat, wrapped up in one of those tartan car blankets that everyone had. Anyway, should have arrived home about 7, first thing I knew was my mother sounding a bit panicky, saying she didn’t want to disturb me sleeping so peaceful on the back seat but it might be getting cold out now, at around 10pm, so yah, think she went inside the house and forgot all about me for a couple of hours, probably due to it being dark, me being quiet and looking like a bundle of car blanket. LOL.

        2. These events are not the result of a lack of love or caring for the child. They are not the result of a lack of intelligence.

          If fact these event’s are not the result of deficiency specific to the parent.

          These events are a result of how the human brain works and all people are vulnerable to this in the circumstances that it occurs.

          You as a human being have this exact same deficiency as all humans do.

          Your failure to understand this makes you particularly vulnerable to making this exact mistake.

          Tongue in cheek, I therefore accept your offer to have idiot tattooed on your forehead, and you self removal from the gene pool.

          More realistically, please understand that your current views are the same as the previously views of the people who make this mistake had prior to making this mistake.

          Your views are a normal aspect of human psychology. Humans want to believe that they have far greater control over their lives than they actually have. You , and most others , don’t want to acknowledge that you have so little control in the circumstances that cause these deaths that you cannot prevent them and to support this view you need to justify your perception by viewing these deaths as being a deficiency on the part of the specific parent rather than a condition you also suffer.

          Unfortunately, for every person like the person who created this project, there are many who oppose progress with removing the circumstances that cause these deaths.

          My view us that it’s pointless to punish these parents or in any way blame them as this will not in any way prevent further deaths. You cannot use punitive or deterrence measures to correct a defect in all human brains.

          There needs to be more education available to parents and wider public and we need to find ways to remove the complex circumstances that lead the human brain to make this mistake.

        3. I have five kids and I agree with Mike 100% that you have to have something wrong with you to not have a constant sense of where your children are and how active they are. You either have parenting skills, which are probably innate, or you shouldn’t have children at all.

        4. I don’t believe this will get through to you Mike. However, for everyone else, I came across this article recently due to 2 children dying inside a car in my city just the other week.

          It gives a very real look into what it is like for these (non-malicious) parents. 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?noredirect=on

          Like others have said, this can happen to anyone and the extent to which these already heartbroken parents are vilified is deeply saddening.

      1. >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.

        >The problem is this simple: People think this could never happen to them.

        YIKES that article was a tough read but it really changed my opinion of these tragic accidents.

    2. The research indicates that pretty much any parent, no matter how smart, loving, etc. could forget their child in their car. It’s related to the part of the brain that handles habitual routines overruling the parts the process changes in routine and current information.

      https://www.kidsandcars.org/2016/07/08/fatal-distraction-forgetting-a-child-in-the-backseat-of-a-car-is-a-horrifying-mistake-is-it-a-crime-2/

      http://www.kidsandcars.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Heatstroke-fact-sheet-2019.pdf

      1. And the no-sleep routine that infants put parents through probably doesn’t help either. My wife has pretty foggy memories of my son’s first year. Sleep deprivation impedes memory formation, as well as day-to-day function.

        It would be entirely heartbreaking, but I also absolutely believe that it can happen by accident. (On purpose as well, I guess, but that’s impossible for me to empathize with.)

        I’m just wondering if a “ping, don’t forget your child” alarm is strong enough, or if that gets absorbed into the myriad daily noise-making annoyances and ignored. You might want it to go off infrequently enough that you don’t habituate to it. So maybe only when you close the door and there’s the right amount weight in the baby seat? It’s hard to imagine the perfect system here.

        1. Yeah, that was my first thought: this is a great idea, but a sufficiently frazzled, tired parent is going to forget to pay attention to it for exactly the same reason the frazzled, tired parent will forget there’s a kid in the back seat.
          In the bicycling world, there is a nearly endless supply of failed products that are supposed to alert drivers that they have a bicycle on a rack on top of the car so they won’t drive into their garage with the bike on top, and absolutely none of them have worked, historically. Routine and habit are vastly stronger than any “This time I’ll remember, FOR SURE!” intentions we have.
          What may work would be a sensor in the back of the car that notices the car’s off but the baby is still in the car, and starts sending text messages to the driver’s phone. Responding to your phone buzzing is a routine, and people are liable to respond without thinking, and then realize oh hey. It’s also an interrupt that doesn’t happen every time they get out of the car, so it doesn’t get filtered out.

        2. Agree, my main concern would be that as this activated every time the car turns off, it’s probably going to be ignored easily. Also, you might remember when it altered you as you turn the engine off, but get distracted with the stuff in the boot or whatever, and then forget.

          I think a better solution might be a Bluetooth proximity alarm on the baby? Though those things are apparently unreliable – cheap ones at least.

          Is this a big thing in the US? I’ve not heard much about it in the U.K. or is it just not publicised here? We’re always reminded not to leave dogs in the cars in the summer. Aside from our weather being cooler, I suspect there’s some eg cultural difference which makes it less of an issue here.

          1. @Chris – could be. I was wondering if there’s a difference in car parking habits, car parks, or driveways, etc. Larger cars?
            Eg In the Netherlands drivers almost never hit cyclists when opening their car doors to get out, as they’re trained to use the hand further from the door, thus meaning they turn round a bit and can spot cyclists. Very simple change with a surprisingly big impact.

          2. I suspect in the UK it is much less likely to lead to fatality and make the news. In many parts of the US, temperatures inside a car can go above 45C or below 0C in less than an hour.

  2. On my car (2018 Chevy Tahoe)… The “child reminder” goes one step further. When the car is turned off, If the rear door was opened before the trip, the car will “tell” me to check the back. Daily, I put my laptop/bag in the backseat floorboard and everyday the car reminds me to check the back. It’s an option that can be enabled and disabled. Seems like a simple enough task, only need to sense rear door opening and ignition shut-off.

    1. I think this is a much better idea. If someone hears a warning every single time, it becomes just noise and the same fallibility creeps in–it’s a false alarm because they *know* their child isn’t back there.

  3. You can tell if the engine is running by perturbations in the power (both voltage and current) coming from the socket. The power system of most (all?) cars is pretty primitive, despite all that CANBUS etc that’s been canonical for decades on the signalling side.

    There are existig accessories that use this, e.g. a plug-in that plays “revving” noisees (as if you were driving a ferrari rather than a taurus) roughly synchronized with how you press the accelerator.

    1. When the car is off, the battery voltage will be below 13.0 – probably a shade above 12.6 (six 2.1V lead-acid cell in series). When the car is running, it’ll be higher than that so the battery can charge – historically about 13.6, but I’ve seen anything from 13.0 to roughly 18 (I thought the lights looked amazingly bright… failed voltage regulator).

    1. Sorry to be a downer, but I don’t think that is a viable option.

      It doesn’t work if you ever separate from your child–for example at daycare, because you then need a way to disable the alarm. Once you’ve disabled the alarm, you need to be certain to re-enable it at an appropriate time, or the system is useless. Even if it’s done automatically net next time your device sees the child’s RFID, could you trust that to reconnect 100% of the time? Or that you would remember to put it on your child in the case you’re already distracted enough to forget them in a car? Or that they would keep it on? Or that the batteries on your device are good? Or that you didn’t forget *that* thing?

      The door check above seems like a pretty reasonable compromise. It wouldn’t work on two-door cars, but I’m probably in an extra-small minority of people with a baby seat in one of those.

      Another alternative would be to add an electronic seatbelt check to the child safety seat itself, combining the normal front-seat setbelt alarm with the article’s device, but without the ‘cry wolf’ side effect of always alerting.

      1. because the risks are unrelated (the BLE/RFID failing to connect is not correlated with you being in a poor mental state and forgetting), so the chance of both happening simultaneously is very low.
        Unlike ignoring an audio reminder, which is much more likely when you’re in a poor mental state.

  4. I think the design of car seats is worsening the problem recently. 10 or 15 years ago, you could distinctly see the kid in the car seat every time you glanced in the rearview. Now for younger kids they’ve become backwards facing, and in addition, more “all encompassing” such that the seat is the most visible thing and the kid is hidden down in it somewhere even in forward facing mode. Given that they are becoming more of a PITA to install just right and parents get one for each vehicle to save having to move and readjust them, the seat just becomes a blind spot from being ever present and the kid has to be actively moving around to catch your eye. Real easy for oldsters who used to have their kids in a carrycot or bassinet loose on the front seat to say “How the hell is that even possible?”

    On the Euro vs US discrepancy in incidence, it could be that US driving is longer and more mind numbing.

    1. Yes, rear facing seats mean you can’t see a baby, though that’s easily remedied with a mirror on the headrest above the child.
      But the presence of the car seat means you know the child’s in the car – unless Americans leave the car seat in the car instead of carrying the baby in in the seat?
      Longer boring car journeys could well be a cause.

      1. It’s fairly common that the seat is left in the car. They’re getting very bulky, even though the weight of them is manageable, it’s sticking the kids weight over a foot out from your body to hold them now, so people are leaving the seats fixed.

  5. What you do is leave your social media input device (aka phone) in the car next to the child. When your natural needs for a social media fix begin eating your soul inside, you will find up your phone and the child as well.

    1. I’ve always loved this advice when they present it in the news… in other words, you might forget your kid, but you’re not going to forget your cell phone/briefcase…. Yeah… further proof of just where priorities are in this new screwed up modern world.

  6. Okay, how about a circuit that detects a car seat/booster that has an occupant, then if the car gets shut off (which can be determined by the radio wiring harness if nothing else) chimes the reminder to check the back?

    That Chevy Tahoe idea is a great method for cars going forward.

    If they mandate such a thing in all cars, and a parent forgets, it’s going to be a nightmare for the auto industry, because the lawyers will come out of the rotted woodwork they inhabit and sue the crap out of them.

    Personal responsibility must be restored to our society, alarms and sensors and tricks only go so far.

    And, before you ask. I have a 14 year old son, so yes, I’m a parent. No I never forgot he was in the car, but I get that it can happen by accident. What are the statistics for such things pre-cel phone and internet?

    The parents that go to R rated movies, or to the nail salon, or a nightclub, and forget the child are the ones that need to be prosecuted.

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