Kids in cars: no cause for alarm

NASA has developed a safety device to alert parents who inadvertently leave their children strapped in car seats.

Each year, infants and small children die from being left in vehicles. NASA has developed a safety device to alert parents who inadvertently leave their children strapped in car seats. Inspired by flight-test technology, the device uses precision materials and electronics to sense when a child is seated in a car seat or booster seat after the driver has left the vehicle.

The Child Presence Sensor was developed at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA, by principal inventor William Edwards of Langley’s Laser Systems Branch, and Terry Mack and Edward Modlin. The device serves as a second set of eyes and ears for distracted parents, according to Edwards, and it can be retrofitted to existing car seats.

The sensor’s driver alarm hangs on the driver’s key ring, and sounds ten warning beeps if the driver moves too far from the vehicle. If the driver doesn’t return within one minute, the alarm will beep continuously and can’t be turned off until it is reset by returning to the child safety seat. The sensor switch triggers immediately when a child is placed in the car seat and deactivates when the child is removed.

The switch has an activation area with a sensitivity of about eight ounces. The sensor detects weight once the child is placed in the seat, transmitting a unique code to the driver alarm via a radio-frequency link. Edwards had been aware of sensor technology developed for the NASA Langley 757 research aircraft. The aircraft’s sensor is mounted on the main landing-gear to sense any environmental effects acting on the aircraft. That data is then beamed to the cockpit using a radio-frequency transmitter.

The aircraft technology was combined with a sensitive switch to create an inexpensive prototype device.

To learn more about licensing the Child Presence Sensor, contact Brian Beaton, Langley’s technology commercialization program manager, at 757-864-7210 or at b.f.beaton@larc.nasa.gov

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