Electronic warning system to keep drivers alert

Electronic warning system to keep drivers alert  
Filed under:
Technology, Trucks/Pickups
on 10/16/2006

Source: Siemens VDO

At least one in every four accidents on German motorways is caused by drowsiness or inattentiveness at the wheel. This risk is particularly high among long-distance truck drivers. To increase safety in commercial vehicles especially, Siemens VDO has unveiled a new advanced driver assistance system. This warning system, called the Driver Attention System, helps make the trucker aware of inattentiveness or drowsiness before critical situations arise. The company debuted it at the IAA Commercial Vehicles 2006 show last month in Hanover, Germany. The Driver Attention System is one of a range of advanced driver assistance systems that Siemens VDO is developing for series production under the name pro.pilot.

The statistics are all too clear: One in every five vehicle accidents in Germany is caused by drowsiness at the wheel, according to a study published by the German Highways Department, while the Deutsche Verkehrswacht, a German road safety organization, reports that momentary drowsiness or inattentiveness is responsible for one in every four accidents on German motorways. In the United States, as many as 40 percent of highway accidents are due to drowsiness at the wheel. The economic loss that such vehicle accidents cause each year is estimated at 5 billion euros ($6.4 billion) in Germany alone.

Particularly at risk are truck drivers who are exposed to considerable monotony on the road. They are often at the wheel for long hours, frequently at night - though contrary to widespread opinion, drivers are prone to drowsiness not only at night, but especially in the morning and afternoon. Drivers’ reactions can be up to 74 percent slower when they are drowsy or lacking concentration, compared with attentive, nondrowsy drivers, according to a study by the Deutsche Verkehrswacht. The upshot is that drowsy drivers cannot react fast enough and properly when critical situations arise.

To counter these hazards, Siemens VDO has developed the Driver Attention System, which detects signs of such risks and can warn the driver quickly. The warning system uses an infrared digital camera, installed into the dashboard and is barely visible to the driver. It monitors the trucker’s face, which is always well illuminated, with the camera’s invisible infrared light, even at night. A software program evaluates the recordings in real time. Based on the driver’s viewing direction and blinking patterns — number and duration of eyelid movements — the program can ascertain whether the driver is alert and attentive. If the electronics detect signs of drowsiness, the driver is warned at two levels. First, if concentration slackens, a vibration of the seat prompts the driver to turn his or her attention back to the road. Then, if the camera registers critical drowsiness, a signal tone of increasing intensity is sounded.

The Driver Attention System also can be valuable to drivers of cars. In addition to this system, Siemens VDO’s pro.pilot network of advanced driver assistance systems is made up of Night Vision, Blind Spot Detection, Lane Departure Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control. It is conceivable that, in a further development stage, the latter two of those systems could be combined with the Driver Attention System. That would enable the vehicle to automatically be kept in its lane and brake in time to avoid colliding with a vehicle in front until the drowsy driver can react to the warning signals and take back control of the vehicle.

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