Make us your home page
Instagram

Tampa dads design device to prevent children from dying in hot cars

TAMPA — Just in the last two years, it's happened to a hospital CEO, a public defender and at least two teachers.

A moment of forgetfulness, then a horrible realization: They left a child in a hot car to die of heatstroke.

About 18 months ago, Tampa dads Jim Friedman and Fadi Shamma were watching their sons play together and got to talking about the most recent spate of hot car deaths.

"It's such a tragedy and I wish somebody would do something about it," Friedman, a 48-year-old electrical engineer, recalls saying.

He and Shamma, 36, who each have two young children, decided to be that somebody. Now they have a prototype for a device they hope will save lives.

Called Sense a Life, the device is activated when the driver's car door opens and provides an audible reminder that a child is in the car seat. If the child is not removed from the seat within a few minutes of the door opening, the device sends an alert to the mobile phone of one or more guardians.

For the last six months, Friedman and Shamma have dedicated nearly all of their time to the endeavor. Friedman already worked from home. Shamma, a pharmacist for Publix, has reduced his hours. They're getting help from a third co-founder, Masud Hossain, a 24-year-old University of South Florida medical student who works as CFO and marketing manager for the endeavor.

The entrepreneurs say no product already on the market sells very well and none works like theirs. Some use a key fob warning system that's vulnerable to interference, Shamma said. Others require modifications to the car and only work on later models.

"Our technology is completely different and 100 percent reliable," he said. "It's so simple."

It took trial and error and three prototypes to get a final version that works well in small cars and big SUVs alike.

The system features two components. A sensor pad placed on the car seat is activated by the weight of a child and sends a signal to a device under the driver's seat. That component has infrared optical technology to sense when the driver's door is opened.

Several companies are already interested in making the product on a mass scale, Shamma said. This week, the team begins a Kickstarter campaign to raise at least $50,000. Donors can receive discounts or entire systems depending on the amount donated. The goal is to keep the retail price under $100.

"We want it to be in every car, so we don't want it to be a financial burden," Shamma said.

Some critics have scoffed at the idea of relying on technology to remember children's safety. Good, attentive parents don't need it, they say.

But statistics and news stories show there are plenty of good parents who make the mistake.

A 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning story by Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post noted that leaving children in cars was relatively rare until the early 1990s, when car-safety experts recommended child seats be moved to the back of the car because of the danger posed by passenger-side airbags. Experts said baby seats should also face the rear of the vehicle.

In the last 15 years in the United States, an average of two children per month — and a total of 356 — have died of heatstroke after being left in a stifling vehicle, according to San Jose State University, which tracks incidents for the website noheatstroke.org. Florida ranks second in the nation, behind Texas, in deaths.

The inside of a car can heat up quickly, reaching deadly levels in as little as 10 minutes if the outside temperature is in the low 80s, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Even outside temperatures in the 60s or 70s pose a serious risk of heatstroke. Children can die of heatstroke if their body temperature reaches 107 degrees.

In addition to the deaths, there are thousands more close calls, Shamma said.

Since word has spread about Sense A Life, friends and acquaintances of Shamma and Friedman have shared their own stories. A father who didn't usually take his daughter to school absent-mindedly drove straight to work, but the girl spoke up as he got out of the car. A woman left a child in the car and realized it only after she went back to get her purse.

Just as important, though, is for parents to have a sense of security when a grandparent or babysitter has the kids, Shamma said.

"It can happen to anybody," he said. "You want to have that peace of mind."

Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

Learn more

For more information, go to sensealife.com

Tampa dads design device to prevent children from dying in hot cars 03/30/16 [Last modified: Monday, April 4, 2016 10:28pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trigaux: Amid wealth inequality, is middle class losing habit of giving to charities?

    Business

    In the slow economic recovery since the nasty recession a decade ago, researchers are wondering if the hard times back then broke middle class America's habit of charitable giving.

    Dr. Kiran Patel and his wife and fellow doctor Pallavi Patel rank among the most generous philanthropists in the Tampa Bay area in recent decades. Their most recent giving: a $200 million pledge, consisting of a $50 million gift to Nova Southeastern University, plus $150 million to buy and build a Nova-affiliated medical education complex in Clearwater. The Patels also have given considerable sums to the University of South Florida and area hospitals. In this 2014 photo, the couple pose for pictures on the green carpet prior to a 15th International Indian Film Academy Awards event in Tampa. [Times file photo]
  2. Tampa Bay's Top 100 Workplaces deadline extended to Nov. 17

    Business

    Think you work at one of the best places in Tampa Bay? You've got a little more time to make a pitch.

    Penny Hoarder and Gregory, Sharer & Stuart were among those at an event in Tampa last May honoring winners of the Tampa Bay Times Top Workplaces awards. Nominations are now open for this year.  
[OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  3. Tampa-based Checkers testing delivery, aims for record expansion

    Retail

    TAMPA — Tampa-based Checkers Drive-In Restaurants continues to fly under the radar compared to dominant burger chains like McDonald's and Burger King.

    Checkers Franchisee Shaji Joseph, of Tampa, hoses down the front walkway of his store at 6401 Park Boulevard, Pinellas Park. The business has a new look including signage and exterior tile. One drive through has been eliminated for an outdoor dining area, right. Joseph owns nine Checkers and is planning to open his tenth in Tampa.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times ]
  4. City Council approves $5 million for Clearwater Marine Aquarium expansion

    Briefs

    CLEARWATER — The City Council on Thursday approved contributing $5 million to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium for its massive expansion project.

    Clearwater has agreed to contributed $5 million to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium 
's $66 million expansion project.. [ Clearwater Marine Aquarium] 


  5. Trigaux: Florida, Tampa Bay lagging in growth of their startups

    Economic Development

    The annual assessment of how entrepreneurs are doing across the country is out from the Kauffman Foundation — among the best watchers of the nation's startup scene. How do Florida and Tampa Bay fare?

    Lured by financial incentives, startup GeniusCentral relocated from Manatee County in 2015 to St. Petersburg, promising to creatye 40 new jobs. It took downtown space in an appropriately creative workpace for entrepreneurs. It did not last there, later moving back to less expensive space in Manatee. A new Kauffman Index report on entrepreneurship found that Florida is a good place to launch startups but a tougher place to grow them.
[SCOTT KEELER    |      TIMES]