Cars to alert sleeping drivers

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology in Ilmenau, Germany, have developed an eye-tracking device that could soon help keep drowsy drivers alert on the road for a fraction of the cost of existing systems.

The Eyetracker, which is being unveiled at a vision-industry trade fair in Stuttgart, monitors drivers’ lines of vision and issues a warning if they appear to be nodding off. After three months of in-car tests, the device will be ready for sale to auto makers, which according to Fraunhofer developer Peter Husar, could be early next year.

The Eyetracker costs about one-tenth the price of similar devices, Husar says. These other devices also require complicated calibration to be customised to an individual’s eyes. The special feature of the Eyetracker is that it can be installed in any model of car. There is no need for a complicated calibration of the cameras.

“With conventional systems, every person whose line of vision is to be monitored has to complete more or less time-consuming preparations. Because every head, every face, every pair of eyes is different,” notes Husar.

There is also another benefit: The system does not require a PC or a laptop. “What we have developed is a small modular system with its own hardware and programmes on board, so that the line of vision is computed directly within the camera itself. Since the Eyetracker is fitted with at least two cameras that record images stereoscopically — meaning in three dimensions — the system can easily identify the spatial position of the pupil and the line of vision,” says Husar.

The information is stored in a standard interface (USB, CAN). This way, the Eyetracker can be connected directly to the car’s trip computer.

Smart cameras

If the 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.

Yet the Eyetracker is only roughly half the size of a matchbox and practically undetected when mounted behind the sun visor and in the dashboard. The tiny lenses are just three to four millimetres in diameter.

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