Total Surveillance Behind the Wheel
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Total Surveillance Behind the Wheel

So are you in the mood for a drive?

Scotsman | January 18, 2005

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RELATED: Big Brother Takes the Wheel to Improve Driver Safety

"MELBOURNE, Australia -- At the Melbourne Motor Show last week, Toyota unveiled a controversial concept car that would very closely monitor, and in some cases restrict, the actions of its driver -- including refusing to turn on. "

MACHINES which respond to their owners’ emotions may seem like science fiction fantasy.

But, while the ‘living’ androids portrayed in the blockbuster film I, Robot may never be built, one Lothians firm has developed an "emotion sensor" which could help cars of the future make better drivers out of us.

The computer software - which could soon be used in Toyota cars - can take steps to tackle potential road rage and drowsiness. The system works by monitoring the driver’s speech for signs of certain types of behaviour and taking appropriate action.

If it detects drowsiness, for instance, through signs such as quiet, flat speech, it can trigger an alarm or bring up another suitable prompt to rouse the driver. Alternatively, if the voice shows signs of stress, it can take steps to calm the driver down, by over-riding the car’s air-conditioning or playing soothing music.

The company behind the technology, Affective Media, has created a system it believes is as good as humans at detecting emotion. Staff at the Broxburn-based firm are now working with Edinburgh University, Heriot-Watt University and Toyota to create an emotionally-sensitive car.

The technology would be added to a car which already has voice-activated controls, such as a navigation system or CD player.

Vehicles using it could hit the road within two years. Affective Media chief executive Christian Jones said prototypes were being fitted to trial vehicles and claimed the system could be a life-saver.

"Studies show unhappy or angry drivers are more prone to accidents than drivers who are relaxed," he said.

"Our technology will work with any voice recognition software. In the future, more cars will have voice-activated controls. This technology will sample the voice to tell if a person is angry or frustrated and will then act accordingly.

"Creating emotionally responsive machines is an area a lot of different companies have their eye on. As well as Toyota, a number of other car makers have expressed an interest and I would expect to see it introduced in cars within a couple of years."

The in-car system is just one of the applications the company is exploring. Call-centre operators are also working with Affective Media on a system to monitor the emotions of callers and Mr Jones says a system that is 100 per cent accuratecould be used to help emergency services screen bogus callers. At the moment, however, the most practical development of the software is with the car companies.

A spokesman for the AA said that, while the organisation had some reservations, any technology which improved safety on the road was to be welcomed.

"I think the important question will be how it works, and if it does work then it will be a tremendous benefit," he said.

"One concern would be that drivers become so relaxed with this technology that they feel they can push themselves beyond their limits. Would they drive for ten hours because they had this technology watching over them, where before they would have split the journey into two five-hour trips?"

Alun Parry, spokesman for Toyota, said the company planned to test emotion-detecting technology in its experimental "Pod" cars.

"We want a car to respond to the emotion of the driver and, as well as the voice technology, the Pod will monitor the driver’s pulse and could act to slow the car if it senses that the driver is being erratic or going too fast," he said.

Big Brother Takes the Wheel to Improve Driver Safety

Ergonomics Today | January 5, 2005

How big of a problem is driver distraction? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTS) estimates that between 4,000 and 8,000 car accidents result each day in the United States because of a distracted driver. And everything from talking on a cell phone to eating, reading, turning up the radio or even putting on makeup are believed to contribute to the problem.

But one car manufacturer is looking at a way to help curb the distraction problem by helping drivers stay focused through a safety system that monitors the driver’s eye and head movements. According to ergonomists at Saab, it’s a safety enhancement that looks at what drivers are actually doing behind the wheel rather than what the drivers should be doing.

"There's no doubt increasing traffic densities and the growth of in-car 'infotainment' systems are putting an increasing workload on the driver," says Saab’s chief of ergonomics Arne Nabo, head of the project that will put a theoretical “Big Brother” behind the wheel to monitor driver distraction. "We at Saab, in common with other car manufacturers, have so far focused on managing information inputs for the driver in the safest possible way. Now we think it is time to take a rather less passive approach.”

Saab’s answer is a system which will monitor drivers via two miniature cameras fitted with infra-red lenses, looking for eye and head movement. If the driver’s gaze strays too far away from what Saab has deemed the “primary attention zone” – the central part of the windshield in front of the driver – a timer begins. If the driver’s focus doesn’t return to the primary attention zone within two seconds, a buzzer sounds. Still no response from the driver? A brake pulse is applied through the car’s ESP system.

It’s not just the driver that the new system will be paying attention to, either. In order to fit the task, environment and driver, the driving speed and traffic conditions will also be monitored. City driving has a wider attention zone, says Saab but lower speeds and a shorter time-buffer before the buzzer is triggered. Highway driving requires a narrower attention zone but accommodates higher rates of speed and a longer time-buffer before the buzzer is activated.

Additionally, says Saab, its monitoring system could also eventually be linked to a satellite navigation system to allow for zero-tolerance of inattentiveness in places like school zones.

Nabo notes that it’s common for people to take their eyes off the road while driving, but hopes that the new system will help prevent “cognitive tunneling,” where a driver gets too absorbed in a process unrelated to driving like following a map or finding a new CD. Currently no date has been released regarding when the system, which is still in development, will be available in vehicles.


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