This story originally appeared on Engadget
On the first official morning of CES, Carol Staninger stopped and started her motorized wheelchair through the cavernous Sands Expo and Convention Center, trying — sometimes failing — not to clip the herd of eager attendees who overlooked the octogenarian at chest height.
A service elevator took Staninger, with gray hair, a pale-yellow jumper and silver brooch, to the show floor. She politely received a flyer from an over-perfumed woman representing a French shoe company. She consulted her flip phone to find the rest of the team. And eventually, Staninger arrived at her booth in the trade show’s startup section, opposite an electric-skateboard showcase and a Korean company selling iPhone cases with embedded stun guns.
“I have arrived,” she said to her team.
More than 170,000 people from 150 countries are at this year’s CES, but it’s rare to see an 82-year-old startup entrepreneur. For Staninger, president of Ancer LLC — a blend of her name and her two children’s, Andrea and Eric — it’s her first CES. The last time she even passed through Las Vegas was the other side of the year 2000.
Raised in Winter Haven, Florida, she started working for a local hospital at age 19 and remained there for 42 years, mostly as a secretary. Her first brush with technology was in the 1960s, when she was introduced to an IBM electric typewriter. “I embraced technology, word processors and computers,” she said. “It just made things better.”
In the summer of 2016, well into her retirement, she read news reports of infants who died after being accidentally left in hot cars. Often left in safety seats that face backward in a momentary lapse of caregiver concentration, there were 42 such deaths last year in the US and 742 since 1998; the majority are children 12 months or younger.
“You see a little child, and you know this child will never grow up,” she said. “He’ll never walk on the beach, never have children, never grow up. His life is over before it began.”
Staninger began conceptualizing a monitor for children left in a back seat, shopping it first to the Florida Polytechnic Institute then to Charles Ferrer, president and CEO of Florida manufacturer CMS WorldGroup.
Called Save Our Loved Ones, its prototype is a motion monitor slightly smaller than a home fire alarm attached to the inside of a car’s roof. It links to a keychain fob. When the fob is 15 feet or more from the car, the sensor looks for movement and sets off an alarm if it detects even a slight chest expansion of 1 mm. Under a collaboration between Ancer and CMS Worldgroup, Staninger and Ferrer aim to release the product by fall 2018. They expect it to retail at $300, with the hope that it becomes integrated into car manufacturing in the future.
In the meantime, she’s thinking of new safety-oriented businesses too: for instance, a sensor for heavy mowers to sense depressions in thick vegetation and stop crashes. “One idea leads to another,” she said.
In her five days at CES, she and Ferrer are aiming to license or sell the Save Our Loved Ones — particularly given Staninger’s age and her investment of $170,000 in the project so far. “We’re focusing primarily on the larger communications companies, larger device manufacturers, to gauge their interest,” said Ferrer.
“I’ll go anywhere, speak with anyone,” Staninger said. “I’m just going to experience whatever happens.”