Can technology keep sleepy drivers awake?

While driving while under the influence or operating a vehicle while distracted will never gain acceptance, driving while drowsy, if not sleeping, could be the restful wave of the future.

The advent of fully autonomous vehicles is practically upon consumers. With the driving done for them, nodding off seems like a safe proposition. However, until that time comes, drivers must be content to remain well rested and avoid putting them, their passengers, and others sharing the road at risk.

Panasonic believes that they have an immediate, pre-self-driving car solution to keep sleep-deprived drivers from nodding off: Artificial intelligence.

The Japanese multinational electronics corporation has developed an in-car system that monitors and detects any one of what they cite as the five levels of drowsiness:

  • Not drowsy
  • Slightly drowsy
  • Drowsy
  • Very drowsy
  • Seriously drowsy

A combination of a camera and sensors monitor the driver and measures blinking features, facial expressions, bodily heat loss, and illuminance. It then combines that information with the in-vehicle environment, processing all data with AI and making a judgment on the drowsiness level of the driver.

Panasonic claims that the accuracy of the system allows it to detect the shallowest of drowsiness well before the driver can perceive it. The device also predicts transitions where the driver may become drowsier.

Drivers usually grow tired when they are too warm and operating their car with dimmer lighting. The system then reacts and adjusts the driver’s environment using a thermal sensation that keeps them comfortably awake. Using and changing the airflow and general temperature while adjusting the brightness can counteract oncoming drowsiness.

Limitations exist in governing the body’s reaction to temperature and light. For drivers who are already tired and be at drowsiness levels that make them immune to environmental changes, a loud alarm combined with a command to rest will sound.

Panasonic’s system is unique in its predictive ability to determine a driver’s state. The system runs silently without drivers noticing the monitoring. The goal is for them to simply feel more awake and prevent serious motor vehicle accidents.

Following testing in October, the Japanese company hopes to have the system in new vehicles by next year.

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