Drowsiness is reported to cause upwards of 7% of all road accidents, and may be to blame for a full 18% of fatal collisions. Thousands of people die every year because they, or someone else on the road, have been temporarily overwhelmed by fatigue, and committed what is in any other context the most benign of acts: a nap.
The Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology has designed a simple camera system to monitor sleepy drivers, called Eyetracker. According to Fraunhofer:
If the [Eyetracker's] camera modules detect that the eye is closed for longer than a user-defined interval, it sounds an alarm. When used as a driver-assistance system, there can be four or even six cameras keeping watch over the driver’s eyes. The cameras evaluate up to 200 images per second to identify the line of vision, even when a driver’s head moves to the left or right.
The system itself is compact and modular, which is to say it requires no connection to an external computer. In theory, it could be fitted to any car quickly and without much work--it's placement options are various. The technology is still in development stages, but seems to have cleared most major engineering hurdles, and likely isn't far from market.
Fraunhofer is no stranger to eye-tracking technology. Their proprietary glasses-less 3D TV system utilizes cameras to track a viewer's head and eyes, using that information to present each eye with its half of a 3D recording, no matter its location relative to the screen. With such technology, detecting that a driver's eyes are drooping or that his line of sight has fallen is comparatively simple.
The true potential of the Eyetracker isn't as a standalone product, but as a built-in safety feature in new cars. Companies could build the tiny system into rear-view mirrors or dashboards, and use car stereos to issue wake-up alerts.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com