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Students designed mobile app to prevent infant deaths in hot cars

Harvard students developed a tech-driven car seat alert system to prevent infant deaths of heat stroke due to being left unattended in hot cars.
Students designed mobile app to prevent infant deaths in hot cars

According to phys.org, Chirp, a startup co-founded by Phoebe Stoye, A.B. ’18, a neurobiology concentrator, and Risham Dhillon, A.B. ’18, a computer science concentrator at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, uses sensor technology and a mobile app to warn caregivers when babies are in danger of being left alone in car seats.

After reading news reports this spring about a spike in hot-car baby deaths, the two friends and roommates set out to tackle this issue using their combined expertise.

The system involves a pressure sensor that can be installed under the lining of a car seat. An Arduino circuit board connected to the sensor synchronizes with the Chirp app on a parent’s mobile phone. When the pressure sensor is activated by the baby’s weight, the parent’s phone will repeatedly vibrate and beep if he or she walks far enough away from the car seat. The phone won’t stop buzzing and beeping until the parent moves closer.

The system uses low-energy Bluetooth technology to activate the mobile phone and also to measure signal strength between the phone and sensor, which is how Chirp determines that a parent has walked too far.

“The beauty of this system is that it is so simple,” Stoye said. “We wanted to develop a solution that has a low enough price point, so it can be made available in as many car seats as possible.”

The developers also plan to reach out to car seat manufacturers about incorporating this technology into their products.

At the same time, they are working on new features that will allow the system to connect to more than one mobile device, and are also looking to incorporate SMS text messaging service functionality so that a different emergency contact could receive text message alerts from Chirp.

One problem the team is trying to tackle is the issue of phones running out of battery and not connecting to the sensor. A caregiver might not notice that the battery ran out of charge and the phone is no longer connected to the car seat, creating a potentially dangerous situation. By sending a text message to an emergency contact, Chirp could alert a different caregiver that the baby is in the car seat.

Yet technology is only one piece of the solution. The Hot Car Act of 2016, legislation that was recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, would require all new cars produced two years after its passage to incorporate technology designed to prevent unattended infant fatalities.

“We are strong believers that you can use simple technology to make a great impact,” Dhillon said. “At the end of the day, if our work is able to save one baby’s life, it will have been worth it.”

Image: Adam Zewe/SEAS Communications.