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Volvo Dashboard Sensors Take Aim at Drowsy Driving

March 19, 2014

A sensor that can detect where the driver is looking is part of Volvo Cars’ work to develop cars that can recognize if the driver is tired or inattentive. Photo courtesy of Volvo Cars.
A sensor that can detect where the driver is looking is part of Volvo Cars’ work to develop cars that can recognize if the driver is tired or inattentive. Photo courtesy of Volvo Cars.

Volvo Cars is researching the use of sensors that can recognize whether a driver is tired or inattentive. When necessary, the car could activate safety support systems such as Lane Keeping Aid and even take measures to awaken the driver.

“This will enable the driver to be able to rely a bit more on their car, and know that it will help them when needed,” said Per Landfors, Volvo Cars engineer and project leader for driver support functions.

A sensor placed on the dashboard could monitor conditions such as the direction of the driver’s gaze, how open the driver’s eyes are, as well as head position and angle. As a result, the safety system could detect the driver’s state and adjust the car’s safety support systems accordingly.

These systems will ensure that the vehicle doesn’t stray out of its lane or get too close to the car in front when the driver is not paying attention. The car will also be capable of awakening a driver who is falling asleep, Volvo said.

“Since the car is able to detect if a driver is not paying attention, safety systems can be adapted more effectively,” Landfors explained. “For example, the car's support systems can be activated later on if the driver is focused, and earlier if the driver’s attention is directed elsewhere.”

Some of the current systems that can be included are Lane Keeping Aid, Collision Warning with full auto brake and Adaptive Cruise Control with Queue Assist.

The technology is based on a sensor mounted on the dashboard in front of the driver. Small LEDs illuminate the driver with infrared light, which is then monitored by the sensor. Infrared light is just outside the wavelengths that the human eye can see, which means that the person behind the wheel doesn’t notice it at all.

Driver sensors are also opening up other possibilities. By monitoring eye movements, the car could adjust both interior and exterior lighting to follow the direction in which the driver is looking. The car could also adjust seat settings, for instance, simply by recognizing the person sitting behind the wheel.

“This could be done by the sensor measuring between different points on the face to identify the driver, for example,” Landfors said. “At the same time, however, it is essential to remember that the car doesn’t save any pictures nor does it have a driver surveillance function.”

The technology is already installed in test vehicles. Volvo Cars is also conducting research with such partners as Chalmers University of Technology and Volvo AB to identify methods for detecting driver fatigue and inattention.

The analysis of the driver’s state, known as “driver state estimation,” is a field that may be key to self-driving cars in the future. The car will need to independently determine whether the driver is capable of taking control when the conditions for driving autonomously are no longer present. A driver sensor could be of assistance in this, Volvo said.

The company said this technology is one of many initiatives bringing Volvo Cars closer to its goal for 2020 – that no one shall be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo.

Volvo will host a webinar on April 10 diving deeper intro its safety technologies and what's to come.

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