New way to guide a car: With your eyes, not hands

Apr 23, 2010 By JUERGEN BAETZ , Associated Press Writer
Scientist David Latotzky of Freie Universitaet Berlin sits in a car turning the steering wheel with his eye movements in Berlin, Friday, April 23, 2010. The scientists developed the software "EyeDriver" to steer their car "Spirit of Berlin" just by the movement of the eyes. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

Tired of spinning that steering wheel? Try this: German researchers have developed a new technology that lets drivers steer cars using only their eyes.

Raul Rojas, an researcher at Berlin's Free University, said Friday that the technology tracks a driver's eye movement and, in turn, steers the car in whatever direction they're looking.

Rojas and his team presented the technology-packed prototype under a clear blue sky at an airport in the German capital.

The Dodge Caravan crisscrossed the tarmac at the abandoned Tempelhof Airport, its driver using his line of sight to control the car. The car's was turning as if guided by ghostly hands.

The technology called eyeDriver lets the car drive up to 31 mph (50 kph).

"The next step will be to get it to drive 60 miles per hour," Rojas said.

Ultimately, however, the Mexican-born researcher is aiming for even more: "The biggest challenge is of course to drive in a city with and lots of obstacles."

For now, exercises remain relatively simple. The Dodge chases a pedestrian or another car across the tarmac and shows his agility and even drives backward - the driver only has to look into the rear mirror to guide the car.

However, it remains unclear when - or if - the technology will be commercialized as questions about safety and practicability abound: What about looking at a cute girl next to the road for a few seconds? Not to mention taking phone calls or typing a text while driving.

But the researchers have an answer to distracted : "The Spirit of Berlin" is also an equipped with , scores of cameras, lasers and scanners that enable it to drive by itself.

"The car can do everything. It can drive autonomously or it can be guided by a driver's eyes," Rojas said. The compromise is a mode that has the car driving on its own, basing its decisions on input from scanners and cameras, and only requires the driver to give guidance at crossroads.

"The car stops at intersections and asks the driver for guidance on which road to take," the researchers say. A few seconds of attention with the driver looking in his desired direction get the car flowing again.

To demonstrate the car's autonomy, Rojas at one point jumped in front of the car - which was at that moment driving at perhaps 10 miles per hour - and the Dodge was immediately stopped by the cameras that had detected the obstacle.

"I was lucky this time," Rojas said jokingly.

While Rojas escaped, driver David Latotzky sat calmly on the passenger seat, wearing a bicycle helmet that is key to the functioning of the EyeDriver: One camera mounted on top of it monitors the street, a second one constantly keeps track of the driver's eyes' movements.

"We chose a bicycle helmet because they're the most ergonomic ones," Rojas said. Selling that technology to customers, however, might be a tough call - it the driver look like he or she came straight out of a Star Wars movie.

But if using your eyes for steering seems to tricky anyway, the researchers already have an alternative: Use your iPhone instead. In fall last year they presented a technology that allows to use Apple's smart phone as remote control for the car.

"Autonomous driving systems may considerably change our mobility in the future," Rojas said.

And should the technology-packed vehicle have a major bug, there's still an old fashioned way of stopping it.

Two big external emergency buttons at the rear of the car allow people outside to shut down all systems.

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User comments : 13

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moj85
not rated yet Apr 23, 2010
This makes more sense I think for people with disability. Imagine it might be better used for fully disabled to be able to use a power wheelchair.
danman5000
5 / 5 (1) Apr 23, 2010
Two big external emergency buttons at the rear of the car allow people outside to shut down all systems.

So how exactly does that help the people inside the car careening out of control at 50mph?
antialias
5 / 5 (4) Apr 23, 2010
Umm..this seems like a recipe for disaster. People (hopefully) DO tend to check at intersections for cars coming from the sides but certainly don't want their car to go that way.

Or you check for cyclists coming from behind when making a turn.

Or you read a roadsign that is off to the side.

Or you get distracted by a sudden event in the scenery (not much can prevent that)

In all those cases you'd be driving in the wrong direction (at best) or, more likely, into a wall.

There's just so many instances where you DON'T look exactly where you are going (and with good reason!). I wonder how they would filter those out.
CarolinaScotsman
5 / 5 (1) Apr 23, 2010
"Two big external emergency buttons at the rear of the car allow people outside to shut down all systems."

Perfect for car jackers and other nefarious types.

MGraser
5 / 5 (1) Apr 23, 2010
Oh, great! Now my car's going to try and run down that girl I'm staring at walking down the sidewalk...haha
gideon
5 / 5 (2) Apr 23, 2010
How about just incorporating some kind of mechanical input to determine which direction the driver wants the steering axle to turn. It could be some kind of wheel placed in front of the driver. That way they can keep an eye out for traffic and hazards.

Seriously though if your making the car drive itself anyways just link it to a gps navigation system to determine the turns it makes, then anyone from a drunk to a child to a mentally disabled person so long as they could get the address right could get there safely. This whole drive with your eyes thing sounds like a 50's sci-fi world of tomorrow failure. Too weird to be practical.
NotAsleep
not rated yet Apr 23, 2010
This is obviously just a "hey, look what we can do!" thing. Hopefully they'll find another, more practical application for the technology
meeker
4 / 5 (1) Apr 23, 2010
Does the car brake every time you blink?
;)
fixer
not rated yet Apr 23, 2010
Perhaps it goes into reverse when you look in a mirror!
Seriously, the leading causes of traffic accidents are eyestrain and negligence, and this makes both problems worse.
Nik_2213
not rated yet Apr 24, 2010
This is an accident waiting to happen ! Aren't drivers supposed to check wing-mirrors, the dash dials and rear-view mirror in order to anticipate problems ? You're not actually watching the road ahead for more than a fraction of the time...

One big hazard would be the vehicle following side-glance and swerving *into* eg 'jay-walking' pedestrian or crossing deer.

Candidate for an Ignoble ?? Or even a Darwin Award (Inappropriate application of technology) ??

As a wheel-chair controller, however, it could be liberating.
MorituriMax
not rated yet Apr 24, 2010
hmmm, are they aiming for using the iPad to steer in version 2.0? This just sounds like a bad idea, instantly on reading the title even, without any further thought about it.
trekgeek1
5 / 5 (1) Apr 25, 2010
News report:

" A big breasted pedestrian was run down this afternoon......."

I really think there is too much to compensate for with this system. There must be better ways. Some type of brain interface being developed by video game systems is probably less problematic when deciphering signals. Like they said, how do you determine "turn left" from "I'm just checking left"? This seems more of a novelty than a solution.
MikeLisanke
not rated yet May 01, 2010
should title be "No way to drive a car: with your eyes"?