At least 120 children – most of them age 3 and under – have died of heatstroke in hot, parked cars since 1996. To help out, General Motors has unveiled a new low-energy radar sensor that detects motion as subtle as the breathing of an infant sleeping in a rear-facing child safety seat.
According to Dr. Oded Bar-Or, a pediatrician and director of the Children’s Exercise and Nutrition Centre at McMaster University, extreme heat affects infants and small children more quickly and dramatically than adults. Because of their smaller size, their core can increase three to five times faster than an adult.
Heatstroke, or hyperthermia, occurs when the body’s core (rectal) temperature reaches 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Dr. Bar-Or’s research revealed that the air temperature in a previously air-conditioned small car exposed to the sun on a 95-degree day exceeds 122 degrees within 20 minutes and 150 degrees within 40 minutes.
GM is targeting its new sensor for certain vans and full-size utilities and intends to begin rolling it out in the 2004 calendar year, according to GM Vice Chairman Harry Pearce.
The sensor will focus primarily in the rear seating area, where children are most likely to be. Once it detects that a child or another living being, such as a pet, is present and that the temperature is at or is likely going to increase to potentially dangerous levels, the sensor will trigger a unique horn alarm. The sensor will then cause the horn to sound three distinct ‘chirps,’ similar to the ‘S’ in an SOS distress signal.
The thresholds for sounding the alarm are being developed based on data collected last fall during a study funded by GM of Canada and conducted by pediatric hyperthermia researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.