It is a tragedy so horrific it defies comprehension. The kind of tragedy that you want to write off as something that happens to other people, that could never happen to you. You’re too organized, too disciplined, you love your child too much for this to ever happen to your family.
And yet it happened to 407 families between 1998 and 2021. A child was left in a hot car, strapped in a car seat, forgotten, and left to die of heatstroke. It typically happens when there is a change in schedule, something out of the ordinary that breaks the routine. Mom is traveling, and dad forgets to drop the child at daycare before parking his car at work. Mom drops some letters off at the post office on the way to work, mentally checks the block that she has made her drop off, and since her child has fallen asleep, she doesn’t realize she’s left him in the car. Dad is distracted by an important deadline at the end of the week – most deaths occur on Thursday or Friday – and forgets to drop his daughter off at daycare.
In his moving and insightful 2014 article in the Washington Post Magazine, Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?”, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Gene Weingarten interviewed David Diamond, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of South Florida. Diamond researches emotion, stress, and memory, and the neurobiology of catastrophic failures of prospective memory, and had this to say about parents forgetting children in cars: “The quality of prior parental care seems to be irrelevant. The important factors that keep showing up involve a combination of stress, emotion, lack of sleep and change in routine…What happens is that the memory circuits in a vulnerable hippocampus literally get overwritten, like with a computer program. Unless the memory circuit is rebooted — such as if the child cries, or, you know, if the wife mentions the child in the back – it can entirely disappear.”
Most people hear of these tragedies and assume it couldn’t possibly happen to them. So, imagine someone who, upon hearing of another family’s tragedy, has spent nearly a third of his life pursing an innovative solution to prevent any other family from suffering a similar fate.
Now picture that person is only 15 years old, and he developed his invention when he was only 10.
Meet Bishop Curry V. Bishop may seem like your average high school sophomore and football player. But while the average 8-12 year old American child spends 4-6 hours a day on screens, and teens up to 9 hours, according to The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, young Bishop has been working to prevent future tragedies. After hearing about a baby in his neighborhood who died in a hot car he developed and patented Oasis, a detection and response device that alerts parents and emergency responders if movement is detected in a car seat, and blows cool air on the child until help arrives. With the support of his dad, Bishop Curry IV, he’s been working to improve it and put it on the market. With the introduction last year of the Hot Cars Act of 2021, which would require “the Secretary of Transportation to issue a rule that requires all new passenger motor vehicles to be equipped with a child safety alert system,” demand for Bishop’s invention and those like it are likely to increase.
I spoke with Bishop to learn more about his invention, the innovation process he followed, what’s next for Oasis, and for him.
What was your innovation process as an inventor to flesh out your ideas for the Oasis device?
Bishop Curry V: When I was younger, I would have little spurts of energy and inspiration that would just pop out of my mind and I would write them down on paper, but back then, I wasn’t as organized as I am now. They were just a little mashed together. It was a really rough sketch of what the finished product was like.
Originally, I had just a weight sensor, then realized that if a parent put a purse or diaper bag down as a way to remember but forgot their purse, it wasn’t enough. So, I added the fan. It was kind of an iterative approach, adding stuff, taking away stuff.
What feedback did you get from users or others to help you iterate?
Curry: When we talked to engineers, they’d make suggestions. We were going to do a carbon dioxide sensor, but that would be too expensive, so we switched to lidar sensors to detect movement.
“…new perspectives can mean different outcomes and better outcomes and better successes that you didn’t think you could have just by listening to somebody else.”
What process do you use to make sure that you understand – and are solving for – the right problem?
Bishop: Mainly, I try to research as much as I can about the problem and all the aspects that come with that. I try to make sure the invention or whatever I make, is broad enough to fit any aspects of the problem and I can make sure it reaches out to as many aspects as possible. I talk to clients, research on the internet, or read articles, read news, statistics, things like that.
When it comes to Oasis then, what lessons did you learn from your experience? How might you apply those lessons going forward?
Bishop: The main thing I learned was patience because I’ve spent one-third of my life working on Oasis. I was sitting here, waiting, so it was a really good lesson to learn, that things don’t happen overnight. You’ve got to stay optimistic even when things look like they’re going bleak because they can turn around the next day. In the future I can know to be patient and know to be consistent, and change will come if I just stay persistent.
How do you stay motivated to keep iterating on the idea, keep at it and bring it to market?
Bishop: It’s just something that I really want to do, and I take time out of my day to think about what can happen next. Even when I’m not working on it, it’s just always something I think about in the back of my mind, it’s still happening, it’s still going. It’s not like one of those things where maybe you train hard for a marathon race. You’d probably train a month. It’s way longer than that. It’s just I have to think differently about it. It’s really motivating, thinking about the lives that Oasis would change and thinking about the life that changed, the baby from my neighborhood, that started the whole thing.
You first invented Oasis in 2017. What is the current status of Oasis, how do you stay motivated to keep iterating and improving on your ideas and what are you doing to try to bring it to market?
Curry: We’ve starting a Kickstarter to bring it to market, and we’re talking to several engineers. We’re also talking to manufacturers and planning to produce a small batch.
What lessons have you learned because of all of the national attention you’ve received?
Curry: Mainly who to listen to, who not to listen to because we almost got scammed a couple of times. It caused me to become somewhat street smart at a young age, due to the national attention that we stepped into.
Can you speak to the support you received from your father as you brought forward your idea? How important was it that he took your idea seriously and didn’t just dismiss it as a childish whim?
Curry: I think he had a huge impact because at that age, I had several inventions. None of them may have been as practical, but then the one time I created something that I wanted to help people, he took it seriously and reached out to as many people as possible and a lot wouldn’t have been able to happen without him. And of course, my mom and my family and some teachers when I was in middle school and elementary school. They were very supportive and helpful for me.
How might we encourage people to be more open to accepting good ideas, regardless of the age of the person with the idea?
Curry: No matter what, maybe the idea wouldn’t be what they would expect, but it’s like a new perspective. That’s something you definitely want to look into because new perspectives can mean different outcomes and better outcomes and better successes that you didn’t think you could have just by listening to somebody else. I think kids, they see the world for how it is, and when you see it how it is and just straight up and non-biased at all, then I feel like their ideas would make a greater impact.
What inspirations do you have? What other inventions or projects are you working on now?
Curry: Well, I plan on just taking it one invention at a time. I’m just going to finish up this one, but I do have a book of several ideas that came to me usually at night, several ideas in a notebook I keep in my room.
Have you thought about what you want to be when you grow up? I’m sure it’s shaped by all these inventions that you’ve had.
Curry: I plan on being a lot of things when I grow up, but to start off, I want to be a psychologist, and maybe be an entrepreneur, and whatever my heart decides at the time, I can incorporate it into my life.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.