Lack of wireless Internet killing children

A recent AP story talks about the increasing number of children dying after being left in sealed cars by mistake.  As a society we have 99% of the infrastructure necessary to prevent this.  Most newer cars have an alarm system and automatic climate control.  The alarm system implies a vibration sensor, a microphone (for glass breakage), and a little computer that is up and running all the time.  The automatic climate control implies an interior thermometer.

With a bit of programming the car can recognize that (a) someone is inside the car making noise and moving around a bit, and (b) that the temperature is climbing to an unsafe level (or getting too cold in the winter).  Now what?  If we had a wireless Internet for the price of $3 in chips the car would be able to send an instant message to the owner and the local police to come back and check the car.  (Of course you could do this now if you wanted to buy a $300/year cell phone subscription for the car, which is essentially what the GM OnStar system does, but most people wouldn’t be willing to pay the extra $300/year for something with such a low probability of ever being used.  Hence the need for a better national infrastructure.)

In an age where we spend infinite money and effort on high-tech cures that save a few lives it is a shame to see kids dying for want of a few lines of software and a $50 802.11 base station.

17 thoughts on “Lack of wireless Internet killing children

  1. How do you leave a child in a car by mistake??. I thought you are never supposed to leave a child in the car – ever, under any circumstances. Don’t we have laws against this kind of crap?

    It’s just incomprehensible to me. People who do this don’t deserve kids.

  2. The sound/vibration system in a car alarm system can’t differentiate between activity inside or outside of a car. It’s not practical to have police respond every time a car alarm goes off and the interior temperature is high.

  3. huh?: You should work at the FAA. They believe that machines are imperfect but that humans can be trained to operate with 100% reliability. So they discourage automated and simplified systems for airplanes on the theory that there is a 0.001% chance of failure of that system even when pilots have demonstrated a much more frequent propensity to operate the manual systems improperly (lots of helicopter crashes due to improper engine management, a function that is performed by computers in every modern automobile). It would be very satisfying indeed to imprison or execute parents who make mistakes but perhaps the kids themselves would prefer to have their life saved by a $3 chip.

    Tim: This is why American companies hire Asian engineers! In Japan, China, and India they work on computers that can walk around a house, assemble automobiles, transcribe the human voice into text, etc. In the U.S. we apparently have given up even on having a computer recognize that a sound is inside versus outside a car. Do Americans go into engineering because they find that working as a Walmart cashier presents too much challenge?

  4. Assuming that humans are infallible is clearly a mistake, but making that same assumption about machines is just as dangerous. I have no idea if the specific proposal to equip cars with child abandonment sensors is feasible or cost-effective ($3 per car would be just the tip of the iceberg in bringing it to market), but I do know that technological improvement often has unintended social consequences. How many parents would now assume that it was completely safe to leave their children in their cars? Without some kind of campaign to educate parents about the dangers that they expose their children to, the technology could do as much harm as good.

    My point? There are many ways to tackle social problems, and usually a combination of technological and non-technological ones is better than one or the other alone. To assume that technology alone will be infallible (or have a 0.001% chance of failure) is sort-sighted.

    And no, I don’t work at the FAA, nor do I want to.

  5. 36 deaths? In a year? My god, it’s a plague of biblical proportions!

    I’m also with “huh?”; how can you possibly leave a child in a car by mistake?

  6. Philip, I wasn’t saying that we shouldn’t have the system as you described. It was more a comment on the idiocy. I am all for building intelligence into machines, but I am pessimistic

  7. This seems very Darwinian. Any parent stupid enough to leave their kids in a closed car on a hot day doesn’t deserve to have their genes passed on into the next generation.

    Rather than investing in technology to prevent this (or even worse, making laws to help “protect” us against ourselves), this kind of stupidity should be allowed to self-correct.


    I’m joking about this, or am I?

  8. It would be cheaper, simpler, and better for the environment to just remove air conditioning from cars altogether. This would at least ensure that the windows were rolled down and that the trip to the store was damned-well justified in the heat of the day.

    It is not unusual, unsafe in many parts of the country for children to wait in cars (or in the backs of pickups) while errands are run. The fear and loathing of random, violent crime does not apply to most of us. Really. Despite what you see on the teevee. People who don’t understand this deserve to live in cities.

  9. Actually I liked your previous idea more – that the car would just climate control once it determined that a child or animal was in the car. That way you don’t hassle the police with false alarms. If the problem of determining a false alarm between a true one was trivial then I would not have egged my neighbors jeep last year because his stupid alarm kept going off all night long. That way, if there is a false alarm then all that happens is that the car starts to climate control. After it runs out of gas, okay maybe then it can call of the police.


  10. Having seen this sort of story a few times it seems like the surge in the number of such tragedies is related to vehicles becoming so incredibly large without many passengers. I don’t want to use the police power of the state to regulate how large a vehicle one is allowed to operate but if children are being overlooked I think people should rethink their ideas about safety. Since they are unlikely to agree: from a technological standpoint I don’t know why electronics of any sophistication (hence chance of failing) would be necessary. We currently have sensors that allow a car to report if a seat belt is not being used. This must rely on the ability to detect an appropriate amount of weight. If the driver closes his door don’t allow it to be locked and start the horn beeping and lights flashing if there is still a seat in use. My kids (10, 12, and 15) don’t always want to accompany me when I do errands so one of them would have to sit in the driver’s seat. At a gas station just don’t close the drivers door (assuming self service). Finally, this sort of “feature” could be limited to SUV’s and similar vehicles that are so large a child could be forgotten. Notice that a vehicle with only the driver in it (the vast majority of cases?) would be unaffected.

    As it is now I have to put my foot on the brake whenever I shift out of park because rich people don’t believe they are ever wrong (class action suits over sudden unexplained acceleration), so I see little wrong with the minor concessions required by my suggestion. Anything obvious I overlooked?

  11. This must be a sure sign of economic recovery – Philip has abandoned his “engineers are starving” lament to return to the “my kingdom was lost but for a few lines of code and some funding” lament.

  12. 36 deaths in a year… tragic, but get real.
    You can not protect everyone from stupidity.
    There are more deaths in a year from kids riding bikes without helmets, or playing near the street and running out without looking.
    Should we regulate all bikes to not operate with out a helmet in near proximity, or zone all property near a road to have a climb proof fence? While your at it build walls around all bodies of water since people do drown.

  13. This is not the same as building a fence around roads. Some cars have vanity mirror light dimmers embedded into visors and beam lights wipers (looks like mini windshield wipers) and many other absulutely stupid and useless features. Why not to take out one of those and put in something that has a potential to be useful, like Phil’s locked child detection device?

  14. WIFI is silly for this. 911 from a cell phone is already free and still works with old analog phones from 1995. With E-911 coming, we should just be installing a simple cell dialer–better range, better location services, etc in the car.

    A morbid question…if a strapped in baby is sleeping when he’s forgotten (as is often the case since the parent doesn’t hear them), does he still scream enough to trigger the sound sensor or does he pass in his sleep? A vibration sensor would be no good since he’s tied down to his carseat.

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