We hope this brilliant idea makes its way to production cars very soon.
Over the last few years, vehicle technology has progressed massively and, sometimes, it's not always for the better. Many have critiqued the modern car for being overcomplicated, with manufacturers loading vehicles up with gismos consumers don't want or need. BMW's gesture control is a prime example.
That's not always the case, though. Safety has been greatly improved thanks to the advent of driver assists. Coupled with clever engineering and stronger passenger cells, the modern motorcar is safer than ever before. This hasn't stopped automakers from striving for better results and covering all aspects of occupant protection.
To that end, Toyota Connected North America (TCNA) has revealed its latest safety concept. Called 'Cabin Awareness', the patent-pending system makes use of high-resolution 4D imaging radar to detect occupants and pets that have been left behind in a vehicle.
This technology has the potential to save lives. Toyota has shared some startling statistics and notes that last year, in the United States alone, as many as 23 children died from heatstroke after being left in parked vehicles. One in four of these children gained access to the car while it wasn't in use.
While in-car sensing isn't new, Toyota's concept differs from the rest by going one step further. Unlike other systems which rely on cameras, limited-range radar systems, or weight sensors, the 4D imaging radar is highly sensitive and can detect a heartbeat or even breathing in the cabin - and this includes all the seats, the cargo area, and even the footwells.
What's more, it can even detect if an occupant is covered with a blanket, something many parents do to shield sleeping babies from the sun. In something as large as the Toyota Sienna or Highlander, this technology could prevent any unfortunate incidents.
The Cabin Awareness concept has several means of alerting the owner and passers-by. If, somehow, you've managed to miss the warning to check the rear quarters of the vehicle, a warning light on the instrument cluster will pop up. The horn and emergency lights have also been programmed to set off and, even if that goes unnoticed, text messages and notifications via the Toyota app will be sent to the owner's phone.
Toyota has left nothing to chance; Cabin Awareness even has the potential to send alerts to emergency contacts, smart home devices, or, through the emergency contact system, first responders. There's no word yet on when the tech will be implemented in production vehicles, but Toyota is trialing the system in a fleet of autonomous Siennas.
"We are extremely proud of our efforts to take this idea from the drawing board to a full-blown concept, and, hopefully, developing a technology that has the potential to save lives," said TCNA's Zack Hicks.