Volvo launches system that detects if driver is unfit to drive

Autonomous cars, Car stuff, News

Volvo is to launch a driver understanding system as standard in its EX90 that can detect if a driver is unfit to drive and even take control of the steering wheel if needs be.

Using a two-camera system to pick up early signals that indicate if a driver is not at their best, the system works by analysing the driver’s eye-gaze patterns.

By measuring how much of the time the driver looks at the road ahead, allowing for natural variations, it understands when the driver’s eyes, and perhaps therefore mind, are focused somewhere other than on driving.

The system will debut in the EX90 and complement a state-of-the-art exterior sensor set.

Says Emma Tivesten, Senior Technical Expert, Volvo Cars Safety Centre:

“Our research shows that by simply observing where the driver is looking and how often and for how long their eyes are closed, we can tell a lot about the state of the driver.” 

“By basing its calculations on our research findings, the sensing system allows our cars to identify whether the driver’s ability is impaired, perhaps due to drowsiness, distraction or other causes for inattention, and to offer extra assistance in a way that best suits the situation.”

Is the driver looking at the road too little? That can be a sign that they are visually distracted, perhaps from looking at their phone. Too much? That can be a sign of cognitive distraction, which could mean that the driver is occupied by their thoughts to the point where they no longer register what they are looking at.

The car’s capacitive steering wheel also plays a role. It senses if the driver lets go of the wheel, thus monitoring the stability of their steering input.

By using our patented technology for real-time sensing of gaze patterns and steering behaviour, the car will be able to take appropriate action to help the driver when needed. The assistance can start with a simple warning signal that grows in volume with the severity of the situation.

If the driver doesn’t respond to increasingly clear warnings, the car can even safely stop by the side of the road, sending a warning to other road users with its hazard lights.

Adds Thomas Broberg, Acting Head of Volvo Cars Safety Centre:

“We’ve made great progress on exterior sensing in the past decades, thanks to our committed work on crash prevention systems.”

“Interior sensing is one of the next safety frontiers for us. We will continue to learn, develop and deploy new features step by step to help improve safety as our knowledge increases and matures.”


Chris Price
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