Car makers testing driver wake-up from sensors in headrest

August 19, 2011 by Nancy Owano, Phys.org weblog

(PhysOrg.com) -- 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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5 comments

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Moebius
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.
canuckit
5 / 5 (1) Aug 19, 2011
Solution: equip GM cars with stiffer shock absorbers that keep the driver awake.

LOL
dogbert
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.
Skepticus
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.
bongk
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.

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