Averting Hot-Car Deaths Via AI Autonomous Cars

By Lance Eliot, the AI Trends Insider

Sadly, yet another hot-car death occurred recently, involving a man that left his 1-year-old twins in the backseat of his car while he went to work for the day, occurring in the sweltering heat of upstate New York. 


Besides human deaths due to hot-car conditions, there are also pets that have either died or been injured due to being left alone in a parked car.

Have you ever seen a dog that was left in a parked car and the owner was nowhere to be seen? 

This happened to me a few weeks ago and I immediately got concerned about the welfare of the poor dog that was locked in a rapidly heating up car that was parked outdoors in the direct sun. 

There was about a half-inch opening in the passenger’s side window which I am guessing the owner perhaps thought would be sufficient to provide fresh air for the dog. I pondered though what sane person these days does not already know about the potential dangers of leaving an animal in a car like this?

Other bystanders also gathered with me and we tried to figure out what to do. 

It was at a mall, and a mall security officer came over to find out why so many people had gathered together. 

When he saw what was happening, he explained that this routinely occurs and that at least a couple times a day there are circumstances just like this. He started to tell us what he would do if the owner did not show-up promptly, and by luck the owner did suddenly appear. 

The crowd was ready to lynch the owner. 

Believe it or not, the owner got huffy at us and told us to mind our own business. 

I was crestfallen that he probably had not learned a lesson and likely would be repeating this same kind of cruelty time and again.

So, there are some people that knowingly leave a living entity in their car and apparently don’t realize the dangers involved, and there are some people that mistakenly do so.

In the case of the man that left his twins inside the car, he has indicated that he forgot they were there, having assumed that he had dropped them off elsewhere already, and so mistakenly left them in the car.

How Hot-Cars Deaths Occur

There is actually a greenhouse effect that happens inside a locked car that has the windows rolled-up. 

According to various charts, if the outside temp is 70 degrees Fahrenheit, a car can readily increase the internal temperature by about 20 degrees in 10 minutes. Thus, the internal temp is now 90 degrees. 

By 20 minutes, the temp will have risen another 30 degrees, and so it would likely be around 120 degrees inside that car. I realize that you can argue with these numbers by saying that the circumstances vary as to how high the temp would go and how quickly – all I’m trying to say is that the temperatures inside tend to get hotter than we think, and you can’t judge this by the outdoors temperature. It could still seem to be a reasonable 70 degrees outdoors, and meanwhile inside that car it’s a boiling 100 degrees or more.

Get ready for this scary statistic:  The leading cause of non-crash car deaths for children under the age of 15 is heatstroke. 

Usually, a parent or a caregiver has left the child inside a locked car, which is parked outdoors, and the child is left in the car such that the greenhouse effect eventually kills the child. Horrible to even contemplate.

For those that think that leaving a small crack in the car windows will prevent heatstroke, they are quite mistaken in this belief.  The slightly open window is not effective to dissipate the heat. I was curious about this notion of leaving a window slightly ajar, so I opted to sit in my car as a form of ad hoc experiment on a sunny day recently, putting the windows slightly down, and wanted to see whether it would make a difference.  It did not. I was sweltering in a very short period of time.

Here’s another real-world example that was also in the news, sadly so.

A mother that had driven her 15-month old daughter to work, having placed the child into a backseat child-seat. On this particular day, the mother’s normal routine had been thrown off and she left to work late and was rushed to get into the office. Usually, the child was taken to a day-care but on that day the mother forgot about the day-care and drove straight to work in her haste. 

When arriving at the office, the mother parked in the parking lot and leaped out of the car to head into the workplace. The daughter was asleep in the backseat. The husband later in the day went to the day-care to pick-up the daughter, and when the daughter wasn’t there he contacted his wife. The wife in a panic ran out to the car. I’ll spare you the gory details.

It seems unimaginable to most of us that a mother would leave her child in the backseat of a car unknowingly, or that a father would leave his twins in the backseat.

This is not just some piece of luggage or clothing that happened to be in the backseat. How could someone do this? Assuming it was completely unintentional, it would seem nearly impossible to have neglected to remember or notice that the child was still in that car. Analyses of these cases tend to reveal that the parent or caregiver was mentally distracted by some other matter, and often were outside of their normal pattern of activity.

In this case, apparently the mother thought that she had done the usual routine of dropping off her child at day-care. It happened each and every day. It was routine. She was outside her normal routine and got somewhat flustered, combined with a mental preoccupation about work. Her grief about this is immense and none of us can grasp the agony that she must live with every day since.

 Simple Ways To Prevent Hot-Car Deaths

One technique that some say should be used involves always putting something “essential” into the backseat such as your wallet or purse. 

The odds of leaving behind your wallet or purse is relatively unlikely. You’ll be forced somewhat to turn to the backseat and in so doing be reminded that your child is there. 

For the leaving of pets in a car, it is rare that someone forgets they left a pet in the car, and more the time is just sheer ignorance or outright foolishness to have left the pet in there. 

Certainly, there are some cases where a parent or caregiver leaves a child in the car to then be able to dash into a grocery store, and those too fall into the shocking aspects of ignorance or foolishness categories.

The act of doing these kinds of things are often subject to criminal laws. 

It is generally against the law to leave a living being in a locked and insufficient air circulating and temperature controlled environment. Society has wised up to this kind of behavior, and the “see something, say something” has helped to deal with the numbers of instances where this continues to recur.

Some have proposed that a device should be included into our cars to help prevent this from happening.

 For example, a camera pointed inward that can “see” that there’s a living being in the car, and then perhaps bleat a loud alarm or honk the horn, and possibly even be able to automatically unlock the doors. Maybe even have it be able to roll down the windows. Or, restart the car and turn-on the air conditioning. Instead of a camera, it could be a heat temperature gauge that is combined with a motion detector, and if there is motion inside the car and the temperature has gotten too high, and the car is parked, once again some kind of safety action is undertaken by the car.

 These are all potential solutions to the problem. 

Unfortunately, almost no one is going to be willing to pay for these elements. 

It would raise the cost of a conventional car. 

To retrofit a conventional car with these elements will be somewhat costly too. 

Even if these all worked as prescribed, how many people would be willing to admit that they might someday leave a living being inside their locked car? I’d dare say that no one walks around thinking this is going to happen.  I’ll assume that most people assume that they will never ever have this happen to them. They are shocked to think that it could happen to them. They are not likely to beforehand go out of their way to purchase something to help prevent it from happening.

Autonomous Cars And Averting Hot-Car Deaths

What does all this have to do with AI self-driving driverless autonomous cars?

At the Cybernetic AI Self-Driving Car Institute, we are developing AI software for self-driving driverless autonomous cars and this includes devising AI that can aid in averting hot-car deaths.

Most AI developers would say that this is an “edge” problem. 

An edge problem is considered at the edges of the core aspects of something that needs to be done, and as such those edges can be worried about at some later date. Focus on the core first, that’s the motto. In the case of self-driving cars, the auto makers and tech firms are dealing with trying to get a self-driving car to be driven as a human would drive a car. The AI should be able to drive inside the lanes of traffic, it should be able to make right turns and left turns, it should be able to keep from hitting other cars and avoid hitting pedestrians, etc.

Worrying about a living being left inside a parked car is just not very high on the priority list. 

Admittedly, with today’s conventional cars, it doesn’t happen so much that it is a true “crisis” of sorts (depending upon how you view the volume of deaths and injuries due to heatstroke by being left inside a car, some would argue it is a crisis since when it happens it can have life-or-death consequences).

Let’s also consider the future and see what might happen as AI self-driving cars begin to become available and pervasive. 

We are going to have parents that will put their child into an AI self-driving car and tell the self-driving car to take the child to day-care. The parent won’t be riding with the child. Instead, the AI system is taking the child, alone, over to day-care. I know this seems incredible to contemplate, and I admit as a father it is unimaginable that I would do this, but I am sure this is the direction of society.

It’s convenient for the parent. No need to drive out of your way. No need to leave work. Just have the AI self-driving car take care of your driving needs. This is predicated on the notion that the AI self-driving car is at a Level 5. A Level 5 self-driving car is considered an AI system that can drive the car as a human can drive a car and that there is no human intervention needed for the driving of the car. At levels less than a Level 5, it is assumed that a human driver is available in case needed.

 I am sure it will be years of proof that AI self-driving cars are at a Level 5 and of sufficient proficiency before people will trust putting their baby into the backseat and letting them ride alone. 

You might be willing to put a teenager into the car and figure that if somehow the self-driving car had an issue, at least the teenager could potentially take action. A baby or small child has not much chance of being able to take their own action. I’m not suggesting that these occupants could do any driving, only that once they are old enough, they could potentially get out of the car if they needed to do so.

I have often pointed out though that this ability to get out of the car is a dual-edged sword. 

You put your ten-year-old into an AI self-driving car. You tell the child to not get out of the car. Keep in mind that no matter how good the AI might be; the self-driving car is still a car. This means that the self-driving car is subject to mechanical breakdowns. Suppose the AI self-driving car breaks down on the freeway, halfway to the desired destination with the child inside the car. 

Do you want your ten-year-old to sit inside that car, which presumably is now a sitting duck in the emergency lane of the freeway? Maybe yes, maybe no. Suppose that the child decides they are going to get out of the car on their own, under the thinking that it is safer, and steps out into the oncoming traffic? 

That’s not good either. It’s a conundrum.

See my article about what happens when accidents happen to AI self-driving cars: https://aitrends.com/ai-insider/accidents-happen-self-driving-cars/

 Ethical Aspects Of Autonomous Car Capabilities

As a society, we need to consider the societal and ethical implications of AI self-driving cars. 

Leaving these kinds of aspects up to chance, or letting the auto makers or tech firms try to decide, probably is not the best path.

See my article about the ethics of self-driving cars:  https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/ethically-ambiguous-self-driving-cars/

 There are some aspects that the technology of a self-driving car can be leveraged that might help in some means. 

I am not suggesting that technology is the total answer. Please don’t infer that notion.

First, it is likely we’re going to have cameras pointing inward in true AI self-driving cars. 

This will be pretty much built-in. If you are planning on using your self-driving car for ridesharing purposes, I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that there’s a camera that can be used to catch someone messing with the inside of your self-driving car. This also raises apparent privacy issues, but I’ve covered those in other columns and just note it as an important caveat herein (see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/privacy-ai-self-driving-cars/).

The AI self-driving car is certainly going to be equipped to start the car on its own, drive the car on its own, and otherwise control the car. This is a given. 

As such, suppose that the camera detects that a child is in the backseat, and otherwise unattended, and if needed the AI could automatically start the car and start the air conditioning. This could either happen because the AI figured out to do so, or that the owner of the self-driving car was alerted and the owner perhaps then instructed the self-driving car to take such action.

We’re also going to have some means of communicating with the AI of the self-driving car. 

More than likely, it will be a verbal interface akin to what we do today with Alexa and Siri. 

The notion is that suppose an occupant wants to find out what the AI is doing, or wants to change the plans of the AI system as to driving the car, the human would talk with the AI. I might be inside my AI self-driving car, I tell it to drive me to work, and then along the way I see a Starbucks and so ask the AI to momentarily stop there for me to get some coffee.

For more about Natural Language Processing (NLP) and AI self-driving cars, see my article: https://aitrends.com/ai-insider/car-voice-commands-nlp-self-driving-cars/

If a child is in the AI self-driving car, the child can potentially talk with the AI. 

The child might say they need help and ask the AI to call their parents. Or, maybe the child says they are bleeding and to go to a nearby hospital. Now, we’ll obviously need to have some savvy AI because the child might say that they don’t want to go to school today and to take them to the beach. It can’t just be that whatever an occupant utters that the AI will blindly obey per se.

The AI of the self-driving car can also draw attention to the car, if needed, for the benefit of the occupants. 

Someone is in the self-driving car and they somehow get hurt, and so maybe the AI starts honking the horn or turning the headlights on and off to attract attention and aid. 

Also, if the self-driving car has V2V (vehicle to vehicle communications), it can alert other nearby self-driving cars to come to the rescue by heading to wherever the self-driving car is parked (assuming you want this to happen). 

The AI could also call the police or the fire department, and even drive to a designated location to meet a police officer. Etc.

For more about the conspicuity capability of an AI self-driving car, see: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/conspicuity-self-driving-cars-overlooked-crucial-capability/

 The microphone inside the self-driving car can be used to detect not only words, but other sounds such as the sound of someone getting hurt or in pain. 

Some self-driving cars will have an internal temperature gauge that comes with the normal operation of most cars anyway. 

By using a combination of an inward pointing camera, temperature gauge, potential motion detector, audio microphones, and other such devices, the AI can possibly be a lifesaver for the occupants. 

I say can be because if the AI is not developed to do this, it won’t be happening by magic. 

Thus, as stated earlier, it’s considered right now an edge problem and only efforts like ours and others that see this as important are working toward solving it.


See something, say something, 

it’s a motto for humans and for the AI of self-driving cars. 

Once we begin having self-driving cars toting around our children, elderly, and other such occupants, I am betting we’ll want the AI to be a helpful caregiver to watch over and protect those occupants. This  though has to be done in a manner that doesn’t overstep what we as a society would want the AI to do. 

Having an AI system that imprisons the occupants is bad, but at the same time “good” if it is done in a manner to protect the occupants properly and appropriately. Anyway you cut it, we want to avert the chances of anyone dying due to being left inside a parked self-driving car. 

Let’s see if we can get the AI to help us on that sensible goal.

Copyright 2019 Dr. Lance Eliot 

This content is originally posted on AI Trends.

This UrIoTNews article is syndicated fromAITrends