Sep 162011
Child safety seat image indicating the various...

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Think twice before you walk away from your car — one day, it may holler at you to come back.

At least that’s the hope of some Middle Bucks Institute of Technology students, who have designed a “smart” child car seat that can sense when an adult leaves a child alone in a vehicle.

The scenario sounds unlikely, but it happens all too often, sometimes with deadly results. After reading about cases of children in Bucks County and elsewhere dying in overheated cars, students at MBIT in Warwick decided last year to do something about it.

“We said, let’s see if we can find a solution with our senior project,” said project team leader Tina Russo, a senior from Central Bucks High School West.

After working on the project for a year, the team of students in the engineering-related technologies program are perfecting a prototype they hope will become a real-world solution in future vehicles. The team, whose members are juniors and seniors this year, expects to complete the project by the end of the school year and pursue a patent for the design.

Here’s the way the students see the smart car seat working:

The car seat would be hardwired into the car’s existing electrical system. A pressure sensor built into the car seat would detect the child’s weight when he or she is placed in it. The information would connect with the car’s computer system when the driver turns the car on. When the car is turned off, a timer would starts counting, giving the driver a reasonable time to get out of the car and remove the child. If the pressure sensor still detected the child’s weight in the car seat after that, a loud alarm would sound to alert the departing driver to the forgotten child. When the child is picked up, the system would reset for next time.

The students are perfecting a prototype of the pressure-sensing device and working out what the alarm should sound like. It might be a voice yelling, “You forgot your child!” Tina said with a smile. “The child safety alarm has to be something that sounds different, so people know what’s wrong right away when they hear it.”

The students work on the project in the school’s Engineering Related Technologies lab. It’s a techie’s paradise, full of computers, tools and all kinds of gadgets, where teens can give their imaginations free rein to conceive and produce engineering-design projects.

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