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Drivers: Pay Attention

Software-enhanced video camera makes sure the person with hands on the wheel stays focused on the road.

More than a quarter of car crashes can be blamed on drivers who simply aren’t paying attention. So while some experimental car-safety systems look out for approaching obstacles, tailgaters, and other hazards, a team of researchers at the University of California, San Diego, is developing a tool that keeps an eye on the driver to make sure his or her eyes are on the road. Led by electrical engineer Mohan Trivedi, the team has come up with a single-camera system that simultaneously tracks both the driver’s head and the road. Mounted on the dashboard, side mirror, or sunroof, the camera is coupled with a dome-shaped mirror that gives a 360-degree view of what’s going on inside and outside the car. Software running on a computer in the trunk analyzes the camera image to estimate what the driver is looking at in real time, based on the tilt of his or her head and face; if the system determines the driver is not paying attention to an imminent hazard, it sounds an alarm in the car. The researchers have so far installed the prototype system in two experimental vehicles and are now testing it to see if it can detect where a car is in relation to lane markers and alert the driver if the car is unintentionally drifting out of the lane. They have recently filed a patent on the technology.

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