Car makers testing driver wake-up from sensors in headrest

August 19, 2011 by Nancy Owano, weblog

( -- Car manufacturers are looking at a technology that sets off an alarm for drivers if they are falling asleep at the wheel. Sensors embedded in the driver’s headrest would read the brain’s electrical activity pasterns. The sensors would sound an alarm if detecting the driver might nod off. The company with the technology is San Jose-based NeuroSky. The company makes electroencephalography (EEG) headsets and has other technologies that translate brain-signal readings into practical use. The company promotes itself as on a mission to make BCI (brain computer interface) technologies available to any industry, and the auto solution is reported to be in the works.

Technology Review says the company has had talks with three large automakers. What’s more, NeuroSky has given the auto makers seats and headrests for testing.

In theory, developing hardware and software that can understand brain signals and delivering products that translate the information for practical use promise limitless applications. In theory. The traditional use of the EEG (electroencephalogram) in lab and clinical settings has involved reading brain signals by hooking the user up to electrodes applied on the scalp with a thick medical gel to raise the brainwave signal. For widespread use, companies like NeuroSky want to be the ones to deliver brain-signal-reading devices outside the labs into real-life settings.

NeuroSky’s auto application involves gel-free sensors. In the scenario, no headset used for scalp-touching to pick up the brain's signals is involved. The instead work through the headrest’s fabric.

The fabric method, if successful, would not only help automakers sell their ‘smart’ cars as even smarter, but would help protect drivers against death and injury associated with road accidents caused by drivers too weary or falling asleep.

In a recent study from Allstate, almost half (45 percent) those polled said they have driven while excessively tired. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration blames fatigue as the reason for 1,550 deaths, over 100,000 crashes, and 40,000 injuries per year.

The company spokesperson did not name manufacturers involved in the research but Technology Review said General Motors representatives have had recent meetings with NeuroSky.

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not rated yet Aug 19, 2011
Why not just detect if the drivers eyes are closed for more than 1 second.
1 / 5 (1) Aug 19, 2011
This sounds like an eventual invasion of privacy. How much more will it take for it to try and determine if you have been drinking.
5 / 5 (1) Aug 19, 2011
Solution: equip GM cars with stiffer shock absorbers that keep the driver awake.

not rated yet Aug 20, 2011
embedding into the headrest is stupid because people falling asleep while sitting up tend to drop their heads when suddenly falling asleep, not lay their head back and prepare to fall asleep. Very stupid location for these sensors.

@feldagast-that would be the only way to go, but I think 3 seconds would be more realistic (if you are tired, you may blink a tad slower and trick the system if its set to only 1 second)

@moebius-by the time that invasion of privacy came along, we'd be right on the brink of rolling out self driving cars (I figure if law enforcement uses this against you as you suggest, it will take quite some time to get the laws passed). drinking and driving wont exist :)

@canuckit-that wont do any good...sports cars have stiffer suspesion already, yet are just as vulnerable to a sleeping driver at the wheel. many highways/interstates already have "wake the fk up" bumps on the shoulders and even those don't do the trick sometimes (they have for me though 1 time, I admit
1 / 5 (2) Aug 20, 2011
Few drivers drive with their heads touching the head rest. The headrest is there to stop your head from traveling too far backwards in a rear collision.

This won't work. The driver is already trying to stay awake. Setting off an alarm will not prevent a sleepy driver from falling asleep.

The head rest sensor won't work and an alarm won't work. Shutting down the electrical system of the car for a short time (forcing the driver to pull over and perhaps nap) might work somewhat but would likely cause some accidents as well.

Asking drivers to pull over and take a nap when sleepy would probably be more effective than any mechanical intervention. Of course, the police would need to allow sleepy drivers to pull over and nap. Getting the police on board might be the hardest thing to do.
not rated yet Aug 20, 2011
The others are right, most people don't drive with their heads agaist the head rest. My idea is a sonar system from the head rest which detect the head dropped off-moves far away from the head rest-consistently for a number of seconds...then embedded electrodes under the driver seat will shock them awake with an electric shot..

Anyway, a few practical tips for the long distance, tired and sleepy drivers:
- A small sprayer bottle of watter. Spray it on your face when you are feeling drowsy. Even tortured persons who fainted are woken by water splash on their faces, so this certainly will wake you up!
-No music playing when you are tired. Instead sing yourself, the more ridiculous the (makeup) lyrics the better! This keeps the brain working actively instead of passively listening.
-Turn on AC and direct the cold air to your feet only. This will force the body to withdraw blood from the extremities to the body and the brain. It will be uncomfortable, but that's will keep you awake.
not rated yet Aug 21, 2011
Why is the first use for this not to detect seizures in epilepsy sufferers and safely stop the vehicle? This type of breakthrough could provide a lot more freedom to people who currently cannot safely drive.
not rated yet Aug 22, 2011
This sounds like an eventual invasion of privacy. How much more will it take for it to try and determine if you have been drinking.

You make that sound like a bad thing or have I misinterpreted your thoughts?
Do you feel that it's acceptable to drink and drive?

The Lexus I drive has a facial recognition system in it's most basic form. It recognizes which way you are looking so that if you're looking away too much, at your passenger for instance, and it senses stationary traffic ahead the car will be braked for you which will certainly grab your attention.
If that system could be adapted and improved to react to eyes being closed for too long they could use it in some way to wake the driver i.e a sudden cold blast of aircon in the face.

Does NeuroSky's system require contact with the headrest for it to work? If so then it's not going to work for the large majority of drivers who don't rest their head on the headrest whilst driving.
not rated yet Aug 24, 2011
skeptical-you may be onto something there. hell i could see a kinect hack for that one (to implement ready made safety devices for cheaper-kinected headrests :) )

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