Hi tech solutions for driver fatigue

Hi tech solutions for driver fatigue

A group of EU-based scientists and researchers are working on a seatbelt that monitors heat rate and breathing in order to detect driver fatigue, while the Royal Auto Club Western Australia (RAC WA) has also been working on gathering data on drivers’ attention spans and what can be done to prevent fatalities due to inattention.

Nationally, it is estimated inattention was a factor in 46% of fatal crashes in 2012, with WA leading the way. Western Australians rate inattention is the biggest problem today with 93% – higher than drink driving at 83%.

Driver fatigue is one of the biggest killers on Australian roads and responsible for up to one-third of serious injury crashes. In Europe the figures linked to driver fatigue deaths and injury are worrying, with 7,000 fatigue-related fatalities annually on EU roadways.

With this in mind, a group of technology companies have joined forces with the University of Manchester in the UK and the Biomechanics Institute in Spain to come up with a hi-tech seatbelt and car seat cover with built-in sensors that monitors the driver’s heartbeat while the car seat cover measures the driver’s respiratory rate.

An on-board computer analyses the data and automatically eliminates other noise from the car and normal movement from the driver — and detects when he or she is getting drowsy.

For now the system is designed to sound an audible alarm to alert the driver to pull over. But as automated automobile technology improves the system it could eventually even bring the car to a slow stop.

The project is called the Heart And Respiration In-Car Embedded Non-intrusive sensors (HARKEN), and it has been funded by a research grant from the European Union.

The technology has so far only been tested on closed roads but the project leaders say real-world testing is around the corner. The system could also be adapted to warn older drivers with a heart condition.

The HARKEN system is just one of a number of fatigue-fighting technologies currently under development.

In September last year, the Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia (RAC WA) unveiled a car and headset technology called For the Better, which is still in its early days, but the RAC says the head scanner has been successful in determining if the driver has lost attention.

RAC WA unveiled the Attention Powered Car in October 2013, to raise awareness about the deadly impact of inattention on our roads.

The Attention Powered Car alongside the neuro headset connects the driver’s brain activity to the car’s engine via customised software. The software communicates with the car and when the driver’s level of attention drops the car safely slows down, alerting the driver to their lapse in concentration.

RAC executive general manager Pat Walker says inattention can be described as a driver failing to pay sufficient attention to the activities required for safe driving.

“The impact of inattention is now comparable to the number of deaths and serious injuries caused by speed and drink driving which are all contributors to WA consistently having the worst fatality rate of any Australian State. Nationally, it is estimated inattention was a factor in 46% of fatal crashes,” Walker says.

The technology has been installed into a 5-star ANCAP safety rated Hyundai i40 which will only run at full capacity when the driver is paying attention.

The RAC will use the Attention Powered Car to directly engage the WA community, raise awareness about inattention and find possible solutions to try to help save lives on our roads.

A recent RAC survey of 700 17-19 year olds found 43% read or send text messages while driving, and a further 20% check social media behind the wheel.

For more information including surveys, findings and videos click here.

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