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Germans develop sleepy-driver car 'warning' system

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In Germany, apart from the well-known national passion for efficiency and order, a common trait among the citizenry is the desire for driving extremely fast along the autobahn.

When bombing along the fast lane at 150mph (240km/h) in your BMW, even a split second's inattention can be fatal. And yet we are all human, and sometimes even a German driver will nod off momentarily.

That, and the resulting bloody mayhem of twisted metal and shattered human bodies, is inefficient and disorderly - thus, intolerable to the remorseless boffins of the Fraunhofer Institute. They have decided that harsh automated discipline is necessary to stamp out the weakness of slack, torpid drivers.

Thus it is that a crack team from the Institut für Digitale Medientechnologie (IDMT) in Ilmenau have come up with a system they describe as "Augenbewegungen des Fahrers beobachtet und ihn rechtzeitig vor dem Einnicken warnt" ("Eye movements of the driver observes and it in time before dozing off warns") or Eye-Tracker for short. Unlike most eye-tracking systems previously seen, it is accurate and reliable, yet requires no time-consuming calibration to individual users.

“With conventional systems, every person whose line of vision is to be monitored has to complete more or less time-consuming preparations - because every head, every face, every pair of eyes is different,” says Professor Doktor-Ingenieur Peter Husar of the IDMT.

“What we have developed is a small modular system with its own hardware and programs on board, so that the line of vision is computed directly within the camera itself. Since the Eyetracker is fitted with at least two cameras that record images stereoscopically – meaning in three dimensions – the system can easily identify the spatial position of the pupil and the line of vision,” Husar continues.

According to an IDMT statement:

The cameras evaluate up to 200 images per second to identify the line of vision, even when a driver’s head moves to the left or right. Yet the Eyetracker is only roughly half the size of a matchbox and practically undetected when mounted behind the sun visor and in the dashboard. The tiny lenses are just three to four millimeters in diameter.

The system can be configured to trigger any desired response when a driver's eyes close for longer than the pre-set interval: a simple alarm, of course, or perhaps a more robust stimulus such as a recorded voice shrieking a volley of commands at the delinquent driver or a brief electric shock. (The IDMT doesn't actually specify these last two options: the German boffins merely state that their equipment can "issue a warning" to incipiently-sleepy drivers. "Vake up unt drife properly OR YOU VILL BE SHOT", for instance.)

The Eye-Tracker has a USB interface allowing it to connect to a car's trip computer or another machine as desired. The IDMT will be showing it off at the VISION trade fair in Stuttgart next month. ®

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