Israelis have been saddened — and angered — by the deaths of three very young children, in the past two weeks, forgotten for hours inside vehicles on sweltering summer days, succumbing to dehydration and heat exhaustion.
But bad feelings notwithstanding, officials in recent days have come to realize that Israel has a major problem — and some are looking to technology to solve it.
Unfortunately, the “forgetting” a kid in a locked vehicle has become something of a plague: Over the past five years, there have been more than 200 cases of parents or school bus drivers leaving children locked in a vehicle for hours, before someone noticed they were missing.
That “only” 11 have died — with most of the rest recovering fully — is a matter of luck or a miracle, neither of which can be relied upon for the long term. The reasons for these tragedies have been as varied as the number of parents and bus drivers involved — being wrapped up in a phone call, rushing off to a meeting, or just plain daydreaming.
The law, of course, has its methods for dealing with this kind of negligence, but when three kids die in the space of a fortnight, after being left in a hot car, it becomes a policy matter. In the past several days, private individuals and organizations, as well as government groups, have chimed in with ideas about how to prevent these events from recurring.
Can technology solve the problem? One of those who believe it can is Israeli venture capital veteran Michael Eisenberg, who wrote in a heartfelt Facebook message that someone needs to develop something — and the sooner the better — to prevent incidents like these from repeating themselves.
“We are looking for someone to suggest and develop a technological warning system or other solutions to save babies that are accidentally left in cars,” wrote Eisenberg. “We are willing to support a hackathon or even a prize for someone who can help solve this and save children. We are all responsible for each other and for the children who can no longer cry out for help. Please please let us know how you can help or hack to save the children.”
There actually are already numerous tech ideas and products out there — both high-tech and low-tech — that parents and drivers can successfully use. One system now being imported into Israel, for example, is Baby Alert’s ChildMinder, an add-on clip you put on a baby’s safety seat that is connected wirelessly to a sensor in a keychain remote control carried by the driver. If the driver moves away from the clip when it is still connected to the seat, an alarm will go off, reminding the driver to undo the clip and fetch the child.
An Israeli product called Kidetect works in a similar manner: It uses a seat sensor that sets off a loud alarm when there is weight on the sensor — which indicates the presence of a child — and the vehicle stops moving for a few minutes. The system has the added benefit of automatically rolling down the vehicle’s windows, to ensure that air gets in.
For those not interested in installing sensors or seat clips, there’s a reminder app called Baby Reminder, available free for the iPhone and for Android devices. Useful for parents or drivers who keep to a regular schedule, the Israeli-made app will simply alert you to remember to take the kids out of the car when you arrive at your destination; the alert is based on the amount of time it takes to get there.
And more Israeli-made solutions are on the horizon: One of these, by two students from the northern Israeli Arab village of Sakhnin, was chosen as a top project for 2013 by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, a US-based program that works with kids from low-income communities to develop projects and to learn about business and entrepreneurship.
Responding to the death of a baby left in a car several years ago in Nazareth, Alla Khalaila and Hadi Hiadry developed Safe for Children in the Car, a set of sensors that will alert the driver, via an alarm, if a child has been forgotten, and can also open windows automatically.
Khalaila and Hiadry’s idea, along with other products and technologies, are being put on a list of technologies being compiled by an Israeli Facebook group called “Safe Children.” The group is compiling information on all the alert systems available, with the intention of spreading the word in the media about specific solutions, and raising consciousness among Israelis about ways to ensure that no child is left behind in a vehicle.
Several weeks ago, MKs Yariv Levin (Likud) and Orly Levy-Abekasis (Yisrael Beitenu) proposed legislation that would require nursery and kindergarten teachers to call parents if a child does not show up in class, just in case the driver left the kid on the bus or in the car. The call “takes just two minutes, but it can save a life,” noted Levy-Abekasis.
Meanwhile, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said that he was on the case too, working with the Standards Bureau to draw up a standard for alert systems. Once the standards are drawn up, Katz’s office said, they are likely to be required in the sale of new vehicles, and owners of older cars may be required to install them as well.