New app might save pets trapped in hot cars

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Would you like people to be able to contact you via your licence plate?

A new enterprise, WindshieldInk, is banking that you will, with the launch of an app that allows you to send messages to people who have signed up to receive them.

When I learned of this new incarnation, an alarm went off. I recalled the first time I’d heard of something similar and dismissed it then as a creepy way for motorists to use their vehicles as a dating service. Too invasive, I thought, when I learned of I wasn’t the only one; the app is long gone. Perhaps actually saying in their advertising, “”So that cute guy just drove by and you think you just missed your only chance to talk to him. Thanks to BUMP, now you can contact him just by taking a picture of his license plate. What are you waiting for?” was a clue this wasn’t gonna go smoothly. Privacy, anyone?

In 2014, General Motors’ Chinese division created DiDiPlate that would let text someone simply by scanning their plate into your phone. It’s as creepy as it sounds, and the idea sunk beneath the waves. 

But Ken and Glenna Kuckling had a different idea. About twenty years ago back in Calgary (the couple now lives in Toronto), Glenna pulled into a parking spot and saw a deceased gentleman behind the wheel. She called police, but the moment replayed itself. What if his wife had been in a nearby shop? How do you connect with people when their licence tag is the only information you have?

Fast forward to today, and while Ken freely admits there are other similar apps on offer, the Kuchling’s are looking to market theirs in a different way, and perhaps to a different demographic. 

“For company fleet management, it’s an updated 1-800-How’s-My-Driving,” he explains. For police forces, it could allow the public to input suspected stolen vehicles or trailers to more readily locate them.”

We discussed the range of applications for the program, but I kept snagging on the obvious: people have to have already signed up to receive your anonymous text that they’re about to be towed, that their muffler is dragging, or they left their lights on. It requires a level of interconnectness that most people won’t assume is warranted. I’ve watched most interactions on our roads, and I’m going to assume that if someone texts me about something I’m doing while I drive, it’s unlikely to be sunshine and roses. Flip side, how many people really care if someone is getting towed? “Not my problem” is a popular go-to in these stressful times.

Instead I kept coming back to the other possibilities of the app. What if a situation didn’t require the target to be necessarily already a customer? The obvious one for me? Children and dogs left in hot cars.

The issue remains in the headlines around North America, not because there’s nothing else to report, but because it remains a stubborn problem that is getting worse, not better. There are no available Canadian statistics, but on average in the U.S. since 1998, 37 children have died of heatstroke annually after being left in a hot car. 2017 is already at 26; if you want a heartbreaking read, scroll through their names and ages at this site. 

There are no statistics for the toll that being left in a car takes on dogs, except for official ones like police K-9 dogs that prove no closed car is safe for a pet in many months of the year. “During the last week of May 2015, a total of 11 K-9 dogs in states including California, Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma and Wisconsin died due to heat exhaustion,” proving this is an education issue. Whenever I write about it, I can count on my mail being hit with swear-laden missives from people I wish didn’t own dogs.

As Windshieldink rolls out its program, it is looking to team with SPCAs for just this situation. “In Ontario, you can use the Windshieldink mobile app to send an email message directly and instantly to the SPCA. Simply enter #SPCA in the license plate/#ID field of the mobile app, select ‘Ontario’ as the origin, input your message, verify the #ID, and hit ‘send,’” says Ken. “We recommend that you tag your ‘signature’ and GPS location into your message. The whole process takes less than 30 seconds and the message is emailed directly to the SPCA. They will get a clickable map link showing where you are located and if you included your phone number, they can call you back.”

Apps like Windshieldink require buy-in from a majority of drivers that may prove tough to engage. While you can send and receive notifications (you choose how you want to be contacted) anonymously, many of us are becoming increasingly leery of information we give out. For corporate and emergency applications, however?

I’m with the puppies.

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