Mercedes-Benz has teamed with leading child seat manufacturer Britax to develop a connected car seat that can monitor a child's vital signs and pre-prepare safety systems for a crash.
The integrated or networked child-seat concept was shown as part of the German brand's latest experimental safety vehicle.
The seat has a small battery pack for the wifi communications, but can also be connected via USB C for additional functionality. The USB connection allows the car to tap into the seat's in-built pulse rate monitors, thermometer and camera, which combine to provide an idea of the child's happiness (or otherwise).
When the vehicle is stationary, a live image of the child can be displayed on the car's infotainment screen, getting around the issue of monitoring a rear-facing child. The car seat can also be connected to the Mercedes Me app, allowing live monitoring from a passenger.
While the car is moving, the car displays basic animations on the central screen as to the child's state; a smiley logo if it's happy or a moon if the child is sleeping, for example. No word yet on whether there is a devil horn emoji for those temper tantrums - or if the system could one day predict imminent nappy explosions…
The connected child seat, which is currently at prototype stage, can also assist with installation.
Various Australian studies suggest between 50 and 90 percent of child seats are incorrectly installed, potentially endangering lives in the event of a crash.
Mercedes-Benz's research suggests that figure is closer to 50 percent for Europe, which is still a major concern.
The seat can monitor if it has been locked in place properly and that the Isofix connectors are secured, with a simple illuminated display providing the basics or more details available via the app or infotainment screen.
As with all seats in most modern cars it also checks that the seatbelt buckle is properly fastened, again warning the driver if there is an issue.
The seat can even monitor if the belts have been loosened or if the child is trying to slip out of them.
"You get a warning if you have reduced tension, which is an indicator of a child moving out of the seatbelt," says Dr Ipek.
But perhaps the most impressive aspect of the connected car is its safety features which allows it to prepare occupants for an imminent impact.
In the case of the child seat that involves pre-tensioning the child's seatbelt – removing any slack to better hold them in the seat – and deploying side bolsters to push the seat away from the side of the car.
"If an accident happens the child seat gets early moved to the side," says Dr Hakan Ipek, one of the people leading the connected child seat project, adding that there is additional damping built into the side bolsters to further dissipate crash energy. "Start the motion earlier so the motion in general happens over a longer time and so the acceleration [on the child] is reduced."
In readying the car for an impact, a signal is sent via wifi, which prompts the seat to set off an electronic trigger.
The triggering mechanisms are relatively simple mechanical springs, pre-wound automatically when installing the seat. The car even monitors the tension in the springs warning the driver if they need to be re-wound.
The connected child seat is a prototype for now, but there are plans to bring it to market as a premium-priced alternative with safety benefits over regular seats.
Dr Ipek admits the injection of technology into the seat means it will be more expensive than traditional car seats when it finally goes on sale, but that "it has to something that people can afford".
One other issue is that the current prototype uses an Isofix system teamed with a foot to stop forward rotation of the seat in the event of a crash.
That foot setup is not legal in Australia, with a top tether attachment the requirement.