Press Release

NASA Develops Child Seat Safety Device

By SpaceRef Editor
February 5, 2002
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Every year infants and small children die needlessly
because they have been left in vehicles, according to KIDS ‘N
CARS, a national nonprofit safety organization. As a result,
NASA has developed a safety device that would alert parents
who inadvertently leave their children strapped in car seats.

The NASA device, inspired by aircraft flight-test technology,
uses precision materials and electronics to sense when a child
is seated in a car infant or booster seat after the driver has
left the vehicle.

Called a Child Presence Sensor, the device was developed at
NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va. The research
center is looking for a commercial partner to further develop
and market a product based on the technology.

“I wanted something that would serve as a second set of eyes
and ears, something that could easily and inexpensively be
retrofitted to existing child car seats,” said principal
inventor William “Chris” Edwards of Langley’s Laser Systems
Branch. Edwards has small children of his own and had read
about cases around the country where well-meaning parents had
inadvertently left a small child in a vehicle with disastrous
results.

Overloaded, exhausted, distracted or confused by a change in
routine, working parents can completely forget that they’ve
left their children unattended. Others may leave sleeping
children in car seats while the parents exit their vehicles
for what they believe will be a quick errand. Yet, left alone
for only a few minutes, a small child can be abducted, set the
vehicle in motion, or — even on a seemingly mild day —
suffer a deadly heatstroke.

“These tragic deaths are entirely preventable,” said Janette
E. Fennell, co-founder and executive director of KIDS ‘N CARS.
“Parents should never, never leave children alone in a parked
vehicle.

“Cars are inappropriate places for children to be left without
adult supervision. There are systems already installed in our
vehicles to warn us that we have left our headlights on or our
keys in the ignition. Our precious children deserve at least
that same protection.”

The Child Presence Sensor driver alarm, designed to hang on
the driver’s key ring, sounds ten warning beeps if the driver
moves too far away from the vehicle. If the driver doesn’t
return within one minute, the alarm will beep continuously and
cannot 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 seat and deactivates when the child is removed. The
switch has a large 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 module via a radio-frequency link. The system
incorporates a long-life battery for reliability. If the
battery is low, the system alerts the driver with an audible
alarm.

Edwards was aware of a simple, yet precise, sensor technology
developed for the NASA Langley 757 research aircraft. The
aircraft is a highly modified flying research lab for
experiments ranging from aviation safety to increasing
capacity at major airports. The aircraft sensor is mounted in
the main landing-gear area to sense environmental effects
acting on the aircraft. That data is then beamed to the
cockpit by way of a radio-frequency transmitter and receiver
system.

Co-inventors Terry Mack and Edward Modlin adapted the self-
contained radio-frequency technology from the 757 aircraft
project and combined it with Modlin’s highly sensitive switch
technology to create an inexpensive prototype device.

U.S. companies may inquire about licensing the Child Presence
Sensor technology by contacting Brian Beaton, Langley’s
technology commercialization program manager at 757/864-7210
or by e-mail at b.f.beaton@larc.nasa.gov

SpaceRef staff editor.