Cars May Soon Warn Drivers Before They Nod Off

The dangers of drowsy driving have been widely documented. Most recently, a study found that car crashes become more likely in the few days after we adjust our clocks for daylight saving time and lose an hour of sleep.

But it’s difficult to prevent people from driving while sleep deprived because there is no benchmark for sleepiness like there is for drunkenness — even though the effects of sleep deprivation are equivalent to those of being legally drunk.

Several startups now want to do the same thing for drowsy driving that breathalyzers did for drunken driving, The Wall Street Journal reports. These companies have developed face-tracking technology that can detect when drivers become dangerously sleepy and have licensed their software to major carmakers.

Here’s how this safety feature might work: A camera in your car monitors your facial expression, compares it to a database of expressions and determines if you are likely sleepy, distracted or agitated. The car then alerts you to pay attention or pull over.

Massachusetts-based Affectiva has developed emotion recognition technology that aims to detect when people are just starting to get tired. The idea is to catch the warning signs before drowsiness really strikes.

“Actually, when someone is drowsy, that’s too late,” Gabi Zijderveld, vice president of the MIT Media Lab spinoff, told The Huffington Post. “The really interesting part of our software is ‘predictive analytics.’ What if you can see trends in someone’s face about five minutes before they become sleepy and tune out?”

Affectiva’s program can recognize seven different emotions and 15 facial expressions. Its standards were developed by sifting through a database of 4 million faces from 75 countries, said Zijderveld.

She suggested that carmakers could coordinate the program’s facial recognition data with verbal reminders, perhaps to sip coffee —> Read More