Thursday 30 March 2017 News Updated at 08:03 PM IST
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Sleepy behind the wheel? some cars can tell - Deccan Herald
Sleepy behind the wheel? some cars can tell
Eric A Taub March 20, 2017, INYT
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It's something that many of us have experienced while driving, though we may not like to admit it. It's called a microsleep, a brief state of drowsy unconsciousness that can happen even if your eyes remain open.

Drowsy driving kills. Several manufacturers, including Audi, Mercedes and Volvo, currently offer drowsiness detection systems that monitor a vehicle's movements, such as steering wheel angle, lane deviation, time driven and road conditions. When drowsiness is detected, drivers are typically warned with a sound and the appearance of a coffee cup icon.

But manufacturers and automobile suppliers are now working on advanced technological solutions that go beyond visions of coffee cups. To find out if drowsiness can be detected even earlier, Plessey Semiconductors has developed sensors, to be placed in a seat, that monitor changes in heart rate.

Algorithms developed by the company indicate when breathing changes to patterns that are typical of someone who is sleeping, giving a warning before someone actually feels tired.

"We could see this in a vehicle in five years," said Keith Strickland, chief technology officer of the company, which is based in Plymouth, England. Bosch, a German supplier of technology to many automotive companies, is developing a camera-based system that will monitor head and eye movements, as well as body posture, heart rate and body temperature.

When such a system is used in vehicles that allow for limited autonomous driving, the vehicle could take over once drowsiness is detected - either coming to an emergency stop or pulling itself off to the side of the road, said Kay Stepper, Bosch's head of driver assistance and automated driving.

In addition, sensors on the outside of the vehicle will monitor the state of traffic in which the fatigued driver is engaged. Once vehicles can communicate with each other - a capability expected in the next few years - other cars will be able to take appropriate maneuvers to avoid the drowsy driver.

In France, Valeo, another supplier of automotive technology, is developing an infrared camera system that will monitor children in the rear seat as well as the driver's shoulder, neck and head movements, looking for deviations from the norm.

Checking body temperature and even how the driver is dressed, the system will also be able to customise the interior temperature for each driver, said Guillaume Devauchelle, the company's innovation director.

Nvidia, chip supplier to Audi, Mercedes, Tesla and others, is developing the Co-Pilot, an AI tool that can learn the behaviours of individual drivers and determine when they are operating outside their norms. The system will eventually learn a driver's standard posture, head position, eye-blink rate, facial expression and steering style, among other indexes. Based on a vehicle's capabilities, the driver will be warned or automatically driven to a safe spot when conditions warrant.

Until vehicles can drive themselves, it will be up to drivers to pull over once they feel drowsy. Regardless of how good technology is at detecting drowsiness, fighting off sleep is futile. Because sleep is a biological need, the best solution for drivers is still a low-tech one: Pull over and take a nap.