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Some truly useful tech: A sensor for your child's car seat

Not a moment too soon, a startup has created a device called Sense A Life which, like it sounds, will equip children's car seats with a sensor alerting parents if they're forgotten.

Patrik Giardino/Corbis

The tech industry has changed our lives in so many ways, and yet there are very few companies trying to solve this seemingly simple problem.

Sense A Life

A Washington Post Magazine story about children accidentally left in cars has haunted me for years.

The story, called "Fatal Distraction" and published in 2009, centered on the horrifying mistake that can lead to a child's death. What's more confounding is that this is a relatively new problem. It goes back to the '90s, when safety experts encouraged parents to put their kids in the backseat of their cars instead of the front passenger seat, for safety reasons. But those experts could never have imagined some parents would forget the kids who were in the backseat. Yet, that's exactly what happens.

"The facts are often the same: An otherwise loving and attentive parent one day gets busy, or distracted, or upset, or confused by a change in his or her daily routine, and just...forgets a child is in the car," the Washington Post's Gene Weingarten wrote in the story, which won a Pulitzer Prize.

"It happens that way somewhere in the United States 15 to 25 times a year, parceled out through the spring, summer and early fall. The season is almost upon us."

I didn't have a kid then. But now that I'm soon to become a father, the story has taken on new meaning.

In the years since it was published, the phone has become the center of our lives. There are now a kajillion apps for everything from dating to weight loss, the number of people using Facebook is larger than the population of any country, and we're bracing for the day when a fleet of robots start delivering groceries. Yet,

tech that can prevent the left-behind-in-the-car scenario has been mostly MIA

.

I say mostly because a new device from Florida-based Sense A Life launched on Kickstarter Wednesday. It offers to make any children's seat smart by adding a sensor and alert system that takes less than a minute to install. The system then connects to a mobile app to remind you that your kid's there when you leave your car and it notifies you if you've somehow walked away without them.

And if you don't respond within a few minutes -- which is all it takes for a car to heat up in the summer sun -- the app calls a designated friend or family member and alerts them that something's wrong.

"This does not override your responsibility as a parent," CEO Fadi Shamma said. "But it's meant as a peace of mind and a reminder."

He's hoping the device, which took about a year to develop, will catch the attention of car seat manufacturers and the auto industry, and spur them to adopt his technology. "This should be part of a safety revolution."

Sense A Life, which starts at $75 through the Kickstarter and is expected to ship in December, actually isn't the only child seat sensor out there. But as Shamma discovered, his company doesn't have a lot of competition. (That's notable given there are more than 400 drone manufacturers.)

Some of the others out there include Driver's Little Helper, which offers a $79 sensor that talks to an app on your phone. There's also Baby Alert International, which offers sensors called the Soft Clip and the Elite Pad that warn parents of forgotten children via a keychain alarm. But reviews on Amazon.com complain the $50-and-up device doesn't always work correctly. The company says it takes complaints seriously and has reengineered its products in response.

Then there's Nabi, a clip powered by Intel tech and created by one of the chip giant's engineers. It was shown off last year, but still hasn't been released.

Evenflo sells a complete child safety seat with "SensorSafe" technology built in. This system, which starts at $149, reminds parents when they're leaving the car that a baby's inside, as opposed to most of its competitors which sound the alarm after you've forgotten. CNET's Brian Cooley says the remind-first approach, used by Evenflo, Sense A Life and Driver's Little Helper, is considered better.

I decided to preorder the Sense A Life for my soon-to-arrive firstborn, and I'm hoping to see more of these types of products hit the market. It's an issue that's far too important for the tech industry to ignore.


Updated at 9:15 p.m.: Adds comment from Baby Alert.

Update on April 7 at 1:40 p.m.: Adds extra detail about competitors.

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