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Eye-Tracking Software in Cars – Simple Tech That Could Save Lives

March 24, 2014
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To improve road safety, automakers have been developing driver monitoring technologies. One of these is eye-tracking software, that which detects the mental states of drivers and takes control of the vehicle when necessary. Interestingly, this seemingly futuristic technology is actually quite simple. According to a study, all it takes to detect drivers’ eye movements and figure out what they are doing and how they are feeling is a simple computer program.

Scientific American recently published a story about a study performed by psychologists at the University of South Carolina. The psychologists wondered if a computer could identify what the person was doing based solely on eye movements, so they asked 12 individuals to do four tasks, including reading lines of text and searching photographs for a particular letter.

Each of the study’s participants repeated the tasks 35 to 50 times. Every time they did the task, a camera recorded the movement of their eyes. Using a subset of the information collected by the computer, the team trained naïve Bayes classifier—the name given to the simple computer program—to determine which of the four tasks the person was doing.

The classifier correctly identified the task the person was doing 75 percent of the time during the remaining trials. It performed better than expected by chance, since the classifier was only believed to get things right 25 percent of the time.

The computer program used in the study is based on a simple but powerful flexible algorithm, which suggests that it may also be used to determine not only emotions but also mental states like fatigue or confusion. This means that even with a short training period, a car’s computer can detect exhaustion in the driver’s eyes.

In the paper, which appeared in PLOS ONE in September last year, researchers noted that a computer can do more with further research. It is possible for onboard vehicle computers to identify situations and help people accordingly.

For years, carmakers like Toyota and General Motors have invested significant sums of money to the research and development of driver monitoring systems, such as those that featured eye-tracking technologies. The idea was that through the use of cameras and sensors, the car would know where the driver’s gaze is and can respond appropriately to the given situation. The car can alert the driver if there are potential hazards or if the eyes suggest fatigue, drowsiness or sleepiness.

According to Popular Mechanics, it will take about five years before eye-tracking technologies appear in dealer showrooms. While it is true that it will take a while before advanced features like these become available in the dealer lot, these features are bound to come sooner than later.

Lexus has had its Driver Attention Monitor feature, wherein an infrared camera notes the driver’s head position, for years. In the 2013 North American International Auto Show, Hyundai’s HDC-14 Genesis concept car gained a lot of attention not only because of its remarkable exterior but also because of the technology inside. The vehicle had eye-tracking technology plus gesture recognition, as well as smart software. Fast forward to this year, Volvo has started developing Driver State Estimation, a safety feature that allows the car to know where the driver’s eyes are looking and whether they are closing.

Photo credit: lexus.com

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