July 10, 2013
Monitoring The Brain And Eyes To Reduce Road Accidents
While there are plenty of distractions that can take a driver’s eyes off the road, another concern is that drivers can simply doze off and fall asleep while behind the wheel.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are more than 100,000 crashes, 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths a year in the United States as a result of drivers nodding off at the wheel, suggesting this is a serious problem.
New technology, however, could help detect whether a driver is starting to feel tired, and could thus prevent a potentially dangerous or even life-threatening accident. This could involve advances in capturing data on brain activity and eye movement that could be the next best thing to “mindreading.”
This research is now being undertaken at the University of Leicester with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and in collaboration with the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina.
This comes as the result of a reported breakthrough that involves bringing two recent developments together. The first is high-speed tracking that records eye movements via cutting-edge infra-red cameras, along with high-density electroencephalograph (EEG) technology, which is used to measure electrical brain activity with reported millisecond precision.
The latter, of course, would require electrodes placed on the scalp, so it is unlikely that technology would be ever utilized within a vehicle, but the fact that these technologies are being used side-by-side is notable.
This research has thus been able to overcome previous challenges, which made it difficult to monitor eye movement and brain activity at the same time.
“Historically, eye-tracking and EEG have evolved as independent fields,” Dr. Matias Ison, who has led this project, said in a statement. “We have managed to overcome the challenges that were standing in the way of integrating these technologies. This is already leading to a much better understanding of how the brain responds when the eyes are moving. Monitoring the alertness of drivers is just one of many potential applications for this work. Building on the foundation provided by our EPSRC-funded project, we hope to see the first of these starting to become feasible within the next three to five years.”
The results of this research could be the first step towards creating a system that combines brain and eye monitoring, and which could further alert drivers who may be showing signs of drowsiness. The system could be built into a vehicle and somehow connected unobtrusively to the driver. The EEG could look for brain signals that occur during those so-called early stages of sleepiness, while the eye tracker could reinforce this by looking for signs that the driver might be on the verge of nodding off.
The question, of course, needs to be asked what next? Would this send audio cues that help wake up a driver? This technology could have uses with self-driving cars, and thus could allow the vehicle to take over should a driver nod off. But, as with alarm clocks, there has to be more than just an alarm and a snooze button, and too many tired drivers might just press the button and keep on rolling down the road even after the warnings.
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