The Japanese government has tapped an Israeli tech company to install its advanced imaging computer chips on buses used to transport children, to avoid a potentially fatal case of a child being accidentally left inside an extremely hot vehicle.
This phenomenon, known as “forgotten baby syndrome,” has claimed hundreds of young lives around the world in the past two decades.
In April, Tokyo made it mandatory for kindergartens and other daycare facilities to install safety devices onto their buses to prevent children from being forgotten inside – which amounts to around 80,000 vehicles nationwide.
The decision came after a three-year-old died in central Japan last September, when she was left for five hours inside a daycare bus on a sweltering day.
Vayyar Imaging is one of a number of companies involved in the program. Its chip uses radio waves to create consistent, high-resolution 3D images of objects and people, regardless of light or weather conditions.
Every chip contains dozens of antennas that transmit and receive radio waves. The transmitters emit these radio waves, which hit objects and bounce back, and the receptors capture these reflected signals.
The chips’ built-in algorithms, designed to identify any child left in an unattended vehicle, measure the distance between the source of the radio waves and the object they hit to determine what it is.
And because each chip has many antennas that transmit frequencies in many directions, it can generate the image almost instantly.
Ian Podkamien, head of automotive at Vayyar, explains to NoCamels that this method of detecting objects results in a very high-resolution silhouette.
“The more antennas you have, the better resolution the image,” he says.
The chips activate once the doors on an empty vehicle have been locked. They scan the interior for any children that have been left behind and if someone is identified, the system will automatically send an alert to the daycare staff responsible.
As time passes, says Podkamien, the alerts escalate – from having the car sound its horn repeatedly to calling the driver and even alerting emergency services.
Podkamien says that companies can use the radar imaging as if it were a camera – but one with the added advantage of privacy, as the chips do not render faces but rather a detailed silhouette created by pixels.
Vayyar is partnering on the project with Japanese corporation Aisin, one of the largest suppliers of automotive components and systems, such as navigation, brakes and engine-related parts.
The Israeli company will embed its chips into the Aisin sensors that are to be integrated into the new buses. Vehicles already in use that are equipped with Aisin sensors will also be retrofitted with the Israeli tech.
The number of chips required depends on the size of the vehicle. A seven-seater minibus, for example, only needs a single chip.
There are multiple radar-imaging companies for the automotive industry on the market.
These include US-based Ambarella and Ainstein, which both use radio waves to create four-dimensional imaging, and Israeli tech leader Mobileye, which is developing a four-dimensional imaging radar with a Taiwanese firm.
Podkamien, however, says that what sets Vayyar apart is that its patented chip has 24 transmitter and 24 receiver antennas, while others tend to only have three of each.
“We are the only company in the world that has so many antennas in a single chip,” he says.
“The whole idea is to minimize this technology, and create a powerful solution at a very low cost.”
Furthermore, Vayyar says it is the only chip maker in the field to also provide the algorithms that generate images from the radio waves. This allows automotive companies to use the chips for a range of purposes, such as detecting pedestrians or parking assistance.
Vayyar did not start out in the automotive field. Founded in 2011, the company originally developed its sensors as a novel application for breast cancer screening.
This original device was capable of identifying anomalies and tumors within breast tissue in seconds, and functioning as a portable, non-ionizing device that cost a fraction of the price of a mammography unit – especially in the developing world.
“This portable solution could be used and passed around in villages that aren’t close enough to a big medical center,” says Podkamien.
The Yehud-headquartered company has since developed its sensors for a range of purposes, including monitoring the elderly in residential homes, managing stock in retail stores and detecting small, concealed objects in security scans.
Vayyar has raised a total of $296 million thus far, most recently securing $108 million in a Series E funding round led by investment firm Koch Disruptive Technologies in June 2022.
Podkamien says that while the child-safety regulations adopted by Japan are not yet mandatory worldwide, initiatives in the US and across Europe are pushing car manufacturers to make it so – and it’s only a matter of time until they are.
The European New Car Assessment Programme, a voluntary vehicle safety rating system, added child presence detection systems in 2023 as a prerequisite for vehicles to achieve a five-star safety rating.
And in the US, the Association of Global Automakers and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers – the two groups that cover almost all carmakers in the American market – have reached an agreement that every vehicle carrying passengers will have alerts for rear-seat occupants by 2025.
There is existing technology to remind drivers to remove their children from their vehicles with them. These include a notification that sounds on the Israeli-developed Waze navigation app when the drive is over, and a device that turns on when a rear door of the car is opened and then sounds an alarm if the door remains closed once the car stops.
None of these solutions, however, are integrated into the actual vehicle and can require professional installation or depend on the app always being used while driving.
Vayyar intends for its technology to ultimately be integrated in many of these vehicles. This includes imports to Israel – where between 2010 and 2020 there were 34 fatalities due to children being left in overheated, locked cars.
“Hopefully, this will put an end to these really unnecessary tragedies,” says Podkamien