Intelligent sensor detects children, pets left in vehicles

University of Waterloo scientists develop child sensor
Researchers at the University of Waterloo have developed a sensor that uses AI and radar technology to trigger an alarm when children or pets are left alone in vehicles. (University of Waterloo)

Researchers at the University of Waterloo have developed a sensor that uses AI and radar technology to trigger an alarm when children or pets are left alone in vehicles. The sensor, small enough to fit the palm of the hand, is designed to be attached to a vehicle's rear-view mirror or mounted on the ceiling.

The sensor transmits radar signals that are reflected back by people, animals and objects in the vehicle. Built-in AI then analyzes the reflected signals.

"It addresses a serious, world-wide problem," said George Shaker, an engineering professor at Waterloo. The system is affordable enough to become standard equipment in all vehicles."

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Development of the wireless, disc-shaped sensor was funded in part by a major automotive parts manufacturer that is aiming to bring it to market by the end of 2020.

While the sensor’s primary purpose to detect when a child or pet has been accidentally or deliberately left behind, the information analyzing the number of occupants in the vehicle could also be used to set rates for ride-sharing services and toll roads, or to qualify vehicles for car-pool lanes.

Upon detecting a child or pet left behind, the sensor would trigger the system to prevent vehicle doors from locking and sound an alarm to alert the driver, passengers and other people in the area that there is a problem.

"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," said Shaker.

The low-power device is powered by the vehicle's battery and distinguishes between living beings and inanimate objects by detecting subtle breathing movements.

Researchers are now exploring the use of that capability to monitor the vital signs of drivers for indications of fatigue, distraction, impairment, illness or other issues.

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