Student-designed smart car seat aims to prevent hot car fatalities

Project a provincial finalist for capstone of the year

When NAIT student and new mom Emer Burke took her infant daughter out of her car seat in summer, she was dismayed to find the baby’s back soaked in sweat.

“She had seemed OK, she wasn’t fussy, so I was curious – how do I know how she’s doing?”

So began Burke’s quest to design a better car seat; one that would let her know when her baby was overheating, or worse, wasn’t within arm’s reach.

“You hear about infants dying in vehicles from being forgotten in hot cars, so I thought, how can we address this problem?”

Provincial finalist

The result, the Guardian Angel car seat, was recently included among the finalists for capstone project of the year by the Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta (ASET). Finalists included the top two projects submitted by each of the four polytechnics in Alberta: NAIT, SAIT, Red Deer College and Lethbridge College.

As a second-year Biomedical Engineering Technology student at NAIT, Burke proposed the idea for the capstone, an end-of-program project, to classmate Jennifer Pettem.

“I thought it was a great idea that would be very meaningful to people if we were able to create this and make it a reality,” says Pettem.

A third student, Rachel Beaudette joined the team and, after four months of work, the trio turned a conventional, bucket-style car seat into their prototype. Outfitted with sensors and lights and synched to an Android app on a parent’s phone, the seat monitors ambient temperature. It also lets a caregiver know when they’ve gone too far from the seat.

The Guardian Angel car seat team“If the parent walked away, there would be an alarm that would let them know, ‘Hey, your baby’s not with you any more.’”

The car seat also monitors when the temperature gets too cold. The app displays all the temperature values and sets off an alarm when they exceed the set parameters. The seat includes lights that activate as well, says Burke. 

“What struck me about it is that it seems to be focused on doing something that has a social good.”

“I wanted to include a visual indicator so if you were driving, you could take a peek in your rear-view mirror and immediately see if they were okay or not.” If someone else is caring for the child, the parent can still monitor their well-being with the app.

Student submission stands out

ASET judges were impressed by the idea, and the technology behind it, says the organization’s CEO, Barry Cavanaugh.

“What struck me about it is that it seems to be focused on doing something that has a social good,” he says. “Here we’ve got something to help people whose intentions are good but whose attention may have been distracted.”

Matthew Tracy (Biomedical Engineering Technology ’92), the instructor who advised the team and submitted the project for the award, says he was struck by the prototype’s thoroughness and practicality.

“I was excited about it. I thought, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before.’ You could almost see it being for sale; it had a lot of commercial appeal.”

“Every comment that we’ve received has been nothing but positive.”

Burke and Pettem are looking into patenting the technology and developing the seat commercially. Sensors and lights would be built into the car seat, rather than being added to an existing seat. Burke anticipates the cost would be similar to a conventional car seat.

The response from those who have seen their prototype has been overwhelming, she adds.

“Every comment that we’ve received has been nothing but positive. People want this on the market yesterday. When it comes to baby safety, most of us go a little bit bonkers.”

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