With driver fatigue a factor in up to 25% of fatal or serious road collisions, Ford Motor Company is pioneering new research to develop faster and more effective ways to detect when drivers are tired, distracted, or not concentrating on the road.
Specifically, Ford’s European researchers are working with neuroscientists to identify brain responses that reveal lapses of concentration. The long-term goal is to match physical responses that indicate the driver is unfocused — like changes in heartbeat or breathing — so that solutions can be developed and applied.
For example, if a driver’s mind begins to wander and it is linked to a specific change in heartbeat, then a wearable technology might be able to detect that and the vehicle could then alert the driver to wake up and concentrate on the road.
As driver assistance technologies offer increasing levels of support to those behind the wheel, it remains crucial drivers stay alert and do not become overly reliant on assistance technologies. In short, through this research Ford is indicating that ADAS alone should not be responsible for keeping drivers alert. Rather, it is crucial that drivers remain focused behind the wheel, ready to respond to situations as they arise and be able to override driver assistance technologies when required.
One long-term benefit of the current research is that it could lead to the ability to generate unique physiological driver fingerprints. That, in turn, means drivers of the vehicles of the future can be prepared to react and to intervene immediately in case it is required, according to neuroscientists working on the project.
Specifically, Ford’s research involves mapping brain patterns to driver’s reactions. Using an MRI machine, test participants complete a driving simulation experience while their brain activity is being scanned. A specially positioned mirror allows the participants to see the simulation on the screen.
Designed using gaming technology, the driving scenario involves a three-lane motorway at night where a vehicle in the middle lane brakes suddenly and the participant has to take over and move the car to the left or right, using a handheld device. Participants are also prompted by engine sounds to indicate to which lane it is safe to move.
Meanwhile, the MRI machine scans the brain before and during these actions. So the researchers can measure how quickly the participant reacts and if they make the right decision, and monitor changes to heart rate, breathing rate and other physiological measures.