MADISON, Wis.—Automakers know that drivers can’t be trusted. Drivers get tired, they get sleepy and, more often than not, their attention wanders.
Auto makers and the insurance industry have come to regard driver monitoring — how the driver drives — as the key to making cars safer for the driver himself and for the rest of us on the road.
But technologies to monitor drivers have taken on a whole new meaning in recent years, as car companies accelerate their efforts to develop autonomous cars.
Once car companies start to roll out automated driving features, they realize they will have to deal with a new issue — namely, the driver’s attention.
Especially in the scenario of “Level 3 autonomous driving“ (which NHTSA defines as “Limited Self-Driving Automation”), there is an implied need to monitor the driver to ensure that he or she is available to take control when the car transitions from automated to manual driving.
When the car is doing all the work, how do you keep “drivers” interested in driving? Car companies now know that drivers can’t be assumed to be always engaged in driving or always ready to intervene when required by the vehicle or the situation.
Driver monitoring is no longer a nice-to-have feature. In the era of self-driving cars, it becomes a must-have technology, because drivers, some of the time, are still going to be required behind the steering wheel.
“The driver monitoring business comes down to auto maker liability,” said Roger Lanctot, associate director in the global automotive practice at Strategy Analytics. “The car maker needs to ensure the driver is paying attention when they need to take control, or the car must move to the side of the road.”
In essence, when driving a car equipped with an in-cabin camera, drivers will be trading privacy for safety
Lanctot added, “What is not crystal clear at this point is a) whether drivers will tolerate being monitored (as the cost of having an automated car) or b) whether it will be possible to turn these systems off.”
The car industry’s demand to monitor drivers has already given rise to several startups focused on driver monitoring systems. It has also led to innovations that range from software algorithms to dedicated hardware.
The car industry has already fostered some major advances in the technologies used for driver monitoring systems.
Dominique Bonte, managing director and vice president, B2B, at ABI Research told EE Times, “The main change has been the shift from traditional technologies based on steering wheel sensors and telematics towards in-ward facing cameras for eye tracking and facial recognition.”
He explained that the main benefit of camera technology is the flexibility to handle a large number of use cases.
Use cases include:
- Drowsiness and Fatigue Detection — eyelid movement frequency
- Distraction Detection — based on gaze direction
- Health Tracking — based on eye color and skin tone
- Personalization — automated settings based on the identity of the driver through facial recognition
- Security — the immobilization of the vehicles when driver isn’t recognized
- Driver —ADAS interaction management
- Decision support for Manual to Automatic Handover in Co-pilot Type Autonomous Vehicles
- Smart Dashboard / dynamic HMI — optimized display of content based on gaze direction
While acknowledging that the main driver-monitoring technology currently deployed is based on cameras, Bonte said other technologies will be emerging.
He predicted, “In the future biometric sensors for measuring health parameters such as heart rate, body temperature and humidity will become more important — either through embedded sensors in the seat or steering wheel or through wearable devices such as smartwatches.”
He added, “Brain-wave monitoring is also being considered by car brands
Asked about key technology suppliers of driver monitoring systems, both ABI Research and IHS Automotive analysts listed Aisin, Tobii, Smart Eye and Seeing Machines as major players.
EE Times has put together a list of 12 designers and implementers of driver monitoring systems. Some have products close to commercialization while others are still in the R&D phase.
12 in-car devices
- Technology transition
- Seeing Machines
- Smart Eye
- Tobii Tech
- Jaguar Land Rover