An automatic window opening system to prevent drowning in vehicles sinking in water

Gordon G. Giesbrecht, Michael Percher, Pierre Brunet, Yanik Richard, Marion Alexander, Alixandra Bellemare, Yash Rawal, Aram Amassian, Gerren Mcdonald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Objective: Every year about 400 people die in submersed vehicles in North America and this number increases to 2,000–5,000 in all industrialized nations. The best way to survive is to quickly exit through the windows. An Automatic Window Opening System (AWOS; patent protected) was designed to sense when a vehicle is in water and to open the electric windows, but only when the vehicle is upright. Methods: The AWOS consists of a Detection Module (DM), in the engine compartment, and a Power Window Control Module (PWCM) inside the driver’s door. The DM contains a Water Sensor, a Level Sensor and a Microcontroller Unit (MCU). The Level Sensor provides the angular orientation of the car using a 3-axis acceleration sensor and prevents automatic window opening if the car is outside the orientation range (±20° in the roll axis, ±30° in the pitch axis, with a 2 s delay). Systems were installed on two cars and one SUV. A crane lowered vehicles in water either straight down (static tests) or by swinging the vehicles to produce forward movement (dynamic tests). Results: In all tests, when the vehicles landed upright, windows opened immediately and effectively. When vehicles landed inverted, or at a very steep angle, the system did not engage until an upright and level position was attained. Conclusions: This system may help decrease drowning deaths in sinking vehicles. If occupants do not know, or forget, what to do, the open window could hopefully prompt them to exit safely through that window.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalCogent Engineering
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 12 2017

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledgements: This project was funded by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada. One author is the inventor of the system, a second author works for KAUST which owns the patent. None of the other authors (including the lead author) have any personal, professional or financial competing interests.


Dive into the research topics of 'An automatic window opening system to prevent drowning in vehicles sinking in water'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this