Car News

New Toyota Tech Aims to Prevent Hot Car Deaths

According to a study conducted by the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ont., six Canadian children died in parked hot cars between 2013 and 2019 – an average of one per year. The hospital says these deaths can be attributed to a parent or caregiver unintentionally leaving their child behind due to stress, fatigue, or routine changes, while others are due to children unintentionally climbing into parked vehicles.

Now Toyota Connected, the Japanese automaker’s technology and software subsidiary, is looking to address the problem of hot car deaths both in Canada and the United States with its new Cabin Awareness Concept. The company unveiled this new technology during a recent event at its U.S. headquarters in Plano, Tex., where AutoTrader was able to receive a full demonstration of how the safety system works from Matt Everett, a senior embedded software engineer at Toyota Connected.

This technology uses a small sensor module embedded in the vehicle’s headliner to detect movement within a parked, locked vehicle. If it detects that a child has been left behind in the cabin, a warning light will appear on the instrument cluster before the horn begins to honk and the exterior lights begin to flash. If these early warnings are ignored, the vehicle owner may receive a notification on their phone or Amazon Alexa home device through the Toyota app, or directly contact a Toyota Safety Connect call centre to alert first responders through the automaker’s integrated SOS function.

Everett said the sensitive imaging tech can detect micro-movements in the vehicle like breathing or a heartbeat and can also detect movement in the cargo area, footwells or if a child is sleeping under a blanket.

Toyota describes this technology as a concept only, although the automaker already had it rigged up on a 2022 Toyota Sienna in the lobby of its HQ, along with a working version of a Cabin Awareness app for smartphone/tablets, Amazon Alexa home devices and smart TVs. It worked flawlessly during the demonstration, although Toyota admits it's still looking for solutions to some potential problems, like preventing false positives if a bird lands on the windshield, for example.

Dave Tsai, vice president of engineering at Toyota Connected North America, told AutoTrader this technology would also work from the jump if it were launched Canada, as the company already has a dedicated call centre in Ontario for handling SOS calls from its Toyota Safety Connect customers. These call centres also support French, as required by law in Canada.

“We have a very sophisticated contact centre integration back within Canada as well to contact a safety provider and the first responders in a specific Canadian province to reach the customers to when they're in need,” Tsai explained.

Toyota has not said when or if we’ll see this tech reach a production vehicle, although it would be particularly useful in family-oriented vehicles like the aforementioned Sienna minivan, as well as offerings like the Toyota RAV4, Highlander and Sequoia.