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An old maxim advises, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
That’s what Wilson siblings Lydia, Bethany and Elijah Denton did more than 100 times to work the bugs out of an invention to automatically call for help whenever a child has been left behind in a car seat.
“We had heard about a lot of car deaths and children being left in hot cars, so we wanted a way to fix that,” said Lydia Denton, 11. “We came up with this idea, and we all kind of worked together to see what does it need to make sure that they are safe.”
The three homed in on how to achieve their goal using a parts from a $60 starter kit from the open-source hardware and software company Arduino.
“We included an LCD display system, a temperature detector, a microchip, tons of wires, a reset button, a thing where it can be plugged in or use a battery and a pressure pad to sense whether the baby was in there or not,” Lydia said.
The pressure pad is placed in the bottom of the car seat and set to 4 pounds. The temperature gauge keeps track of the temperature inside the car.
“It detects the temperature around it, and if it gets over 102 degrees, then it automatically texts the contact, and they have one minute to get back before it dials 911 to come and save the child,” Lydia said.
The device has a SIM card in, just like a cellphone, that identifies its location.
Elijah Denton, 13, helped with assembling the parts.
“We used an Arduino microchip,” Elijah said. “You hook it up to the computer and open up the software. It’s C++ coding language, and you code and you upload it to the microchip, and you can wire everything up to the breadboard. Anything I didn’t know, I would watch a YouTube video or look up on the Arduino website to see what I could do on the software.”
Bethany, 9, said the most challenging part was connecting the wires in the breadboard.
“I thought that it looked really good and that it was sturdy enough to test it with the cat,” Bethany said.
The children used their pet, Baby Cat, as the subject in the car seat because he weighs about the same as a newborn.
That was no problem for Baby Cat, who regularly naps in the old car seat anyway.
“We figure a baby is probably light and probably squirms, so on the days when Baby Cat didn’t want to get in the car seat, he would squirm and it still worked,” Elijah said.
When Baby Cat was not available, the kids used canned goods and bags of sugar to simulate the weight of a baby.
“It took well over 100 tries to get everything right, the coding, the wiring, but eventually it worked,” Elijah said. “I remember one of the tries, the LCD display wasn’t lighting up correctly or displaying the right message. The pressure pad wasn’t reading pressure. The temperature detector wasn’t reading the temperature or was reading a temperature too low or high.”
The children kept solving the problems until all the puzzle pieces fit.
“That was real exciting,” Elijah said. “We had finally done this.”
It took two months to get the device in working order.
“The most teamwork came when we were putting the circuit together,” Elijah said. “I felt like it went a lot smoother than if anyone tried to do it alone.”
The children’s idea is to create a stand-alone unit that parents can strap to the side of any car seat.
“Our goal is to make this as cheap as possible so that any family can afford it,” Elijah said. “We’re not out to make money. We’re out to save lives, so we are trying to get this idea out there to the car companies and the car seat companies that can do this.”
The device attracted the attention of two local television stations that aired segments on the children’s device.
“They failed over 100 times, but then they just kept at it,” said mother Covey Denton, a science teacher at Greenfield School. “I think that’s a special kind of mindset that a lot of kids possess. ‘Don’t tell me no. I’m going to figure out how to do it. It’s going to happen.’ I love that they dream big and figure out how to get this stuff done.”