According to the nonprofit Kids and Cars, 23 children died in the US last year of heat stroke from being left in a hot car. Automakers have rolled out a number of different systems in order to prevent these tragic situations, and Toyota's latest concept takes it one step further in the hopes of eliminating these kinds of deaths once and for all.
Toyota Connected this week unveiled its Cabin Awareness concept. It relies on millimeter-wave radar to detect small movements in the cabin in order to determine whether or not a living being is inside, at which point it can alert the driver via an app or call emergency services as needed.
The Japanese automaker's secret advantage is what it calls "4D imaging radar." While time is usually the fourth dimension as far as physics is concerned, in this case it refers to the ability to detect far more data than most cabin-monitoring systems. Embedded above the headliner, Toyota claims the radar can sense movement down to heartbeats and respiration, in addition to determining the size, posture and position of everything in the vehicle.
If the Cabin Awareness concept finds something inside an otherwise empty vehicle, it will begin by warning the driver to check the vehicle. It'll flash lights on the dashboard, honk the vehicle horn and engage the hazards. From there, it can notify the driver via Toyota's app and, if necessary, call emergency services to rescue whoever is inside.
Toyota's engineers came up with the idea based on radar systems from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which can detect heartbeats and respiration through rubble to help first responders locate people trapped after natural disasters. The Cabin Awareness concept will get real-world trials through May Mobility, one of the companies using Toyota's Sienna minivan as a platform for autonomous-vehicle development.
Toyota is not the only automaker to develop advanced systems to prevent hot-car tragedies. Hyundai and sister company Kia have a similar system that uses ultrasonic sensors (the same tech behind parking sensors) to track cabin movement after the car has turned off. Other automakers use less involved systems that offer generic alerts if the rear door was opened prior to departure, while others rely on pressure sensors that only detect if something is in the seat.