New Technology Might Predict Driver Mistakes & Prevent Car Accidents
When drivers disregard safe driving practices or fail to focus on the roadway, it can result in serious car crashes that cause debilitating injuries. The vast majority of auto collisions are caused by human error. While cars that operate themselves without the need for human input can one day eliminate the risk of crashes caused by drunk or distracted drivers, a new technology currently being developed by a team of researchers at Stanford and Cornell might offer a more immediate solution to the problem of poor driving.
While the use of monitors, sensors, and cameras outside a vehicle to prevent crashes is now standard on a growing number of vehicles, the emerging technology being developed uses this type of system inside the vehicle to monitor the driver rather than other vehicles and road conditions. The system registers subtle movements by drivers, such as a slight turn of the head or body to predict upcoming driving maneuvers, like a lane change. This information is coordinated with data from sensors and cameras outside the vehicle to predict when a driver is preparing to engage in an unsafe driving maneuver. The driver would receive a warning that he or she is about to cause a collision.
The development process involved combining data mined from 10 drivers while driving about 1,200 miles on highways and city streets over a two month period. Computer technology allowed the system to correlate certain body and head movements with particular driving maneuvers. The system was able to predict driving maneuvers when tested by other drivers over 77 percent of the time. Drivers testing the system received warnings almost 3.5 seconds prior to the unsafe maneuver being executed.
The researchers concede that the system still needs refinement. During tests of the technology, the face tracking system was sometimes disrupted by shadows moving through the passenger compartment of the vehicle. Physical reactions of drivers when communicating with passengers in the car also fooled the system on occasion. Atypical road features also confounded the system because drivers often exhibit different physical cues.
The product developers have suggested that eye-tracking capability and more advanced cameras might provide increased accuracy. Additional sensors in steering wheels and pedals also might be used to improve the ability of the technology to evaluate and anticipate a driver's movements.
Although vehicle safety technology is advancing at a rapid rate, careless and distracted drivers continue to claim the lives of tens of thousands of vehicle occupants annually. Even if evolving technology reduces the number of crashes caused by driver errors, these technologies might raise new safety issues, such as the threat of hacking, hardware failures, or faulty programing. When these types of problems are caused by product defects, the vehicle or system manufacturer might be liable.
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