June 2002

Brian F. Beaton
Technology Commercialization Project Manager
Langley Research Center

Brian F. Beaton is the Technology Commercialization Project Manager at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA. Currently, he is working to commercialize a safety device that prevents parents from inadvertently leaving their children in car seats.

NASA Tech Briefs: How does the Technology Commercialization Office tie in with the research being done at Langley Research Center?

Brian F. Beaton: We take a look at the technologies that are developed here at the center and we try to see if there is a secondary use for them. We do our mission work and then our office evaluates certain technologies that come to us that may be novel, and if so, we try to transfer them to the commercial world.

NTB: What is the Child Presence Sensor and how does it work?

Beaton: It is a retrofit system that can attach to any baby seat or child seat. It is made of three parts: a sensor, a transmitter, and a receiver with an alarm that notifies a parent or a caregiver if they’ve inadvertently left the child inside the car. It works on an RF range principle, so if a parent or caregiver gets a certain distance away from the automobile, it will beep at them. The alarm can be held on the key chain since the device is very small.

NTB: Has Langley research inspired the development of this technology?

Beaton: There was some flight research that was performed on our 757 research aircraft. An experiment was successfully completed where scientists transmitted vibration, noise, and temperature data from the wheel well or the landing gear area - which is a very hostile environment on the aircraft - up to the research area in the cabin. They used an aircraft sensor mounted in the landing gear area to detect environmental effects on the aircraft. The data was then sent to the cockpit via an RF transmitter and receiver. So this flight-test technology gave our inventors the idea to come up with a similar device for saving children’s lives.

NTB: Who was the principal inventor?

Beaton: It was a team consisting of William “Chris” Edwards, a laser systems specialist; Terry Mack, a Lockheed Martin electronics engineer; and Edward Modlin, senior aerospace technologist.

NTB: How did they come up with this idea?

Beaton: There was a tragic event that occurred near Langley at a daycare center where a child was left in a car seat. The main inventor’s child also attended that daycare center. A lot of people asked how this could possibly happen, but Chris Edwards thought about it and believed this could happen to anybody because our lives have become so hectic. This sparked the idea to come up with a solution to this problem.

NTB: Is the device currently available to the general public?

Beaton: No. The technology has been developed, prototyped, and it has had some testing done. We’ve done demonstrations for various people and we’re trying to get companies involved with taking the technology from the prototype stage to a consumer product.

NTB: How long do you think it will be before the device hits the market?

Beaton: It depends on how much more work is needed - what testing and verification the technology has to go through to get to the product stage. We’re trying to flush out all details with companies to see what it would take to do this. We are also trying to target the technology or the product for sale at the right price. That has been the difficulty - the price is what drives the consumer to buy a product. Being a safety product, or a safety-related product, people don’t really want to spend money for safety; they just expect it. So that seems to be the biggest hurdle right now - trying to find the right company that would want to take this on.

NTB: What other projects are you involved with?

Beaton: We have a number of non-destructive evaluation projects that we are working on for various types of applications like aircraft. One of our technologies, called scanning thermography, has found its way to the insides of boilers in utility companies, and it’s helping them find out where their vulnerable areas are inside their boilers. The technology can detect cracks and wear in industrial tanks or piping, aircraft, power plants, and bridges. Companies are then able to inspect and remove corrosive or damaged areas during their downtime so they can keep their utility plants running longer.


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