A newly developed small, low-cost artificial intelligence (AI) enabled sensor may help save children or pets left alone in vehicles by triggering an alarm, scientists have said. The device combines radar technology with AI to detect unattended children or animals with 100-per-cent accuracy, according to the researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada. The device, which is small enough to fit in the palm of a hand at just three centimetres in diameter, is designed to be attached to a vehicle's rear-view mirror or mounted on the ceiling, they said.
The system works by sending out radar signals that are reflected back by people, animals and objects in the vehicle. The built-in AI then analyses the reflected signals.
"It addresses a serious, world-wide problem. The system is so affordable it could become standard equipment in all vehicles," George Shaker, an engineering professor at Waterloo said in a statement.
The researchers acknowledge that the development of the wireless, disc-shaped sensor was funded in part by an automotive parts manufacturer that is aiming to bring it to market by the end of 2020.
Analysis by the device determines the number of occupants and their locations in a vehicle, they said.
That information could be used to set rates for ride-sharing services and toll roads, or to qualify vehicles for car-pool lanes, the researchers said.
However, its primary purpose is to detect when a child or pet has been accidentally or deliberately left behind, a scenario that can result in serious harm or death in extremely hot or cold weather, they said.
In such cases, the system would 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, the researchers noted.
"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 researchers explained that the low-power device, which runs on a vehicle's battery, distinguishes between living beings and inanimate objects by detecting subtle breathing movements.
They 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.