We’ve all done it at some point. Driving too long, or too far or too late in the day. Your eyelids grow heavy. That coffee buzz leaves you. The open window and blasting stereo do little to keep you awake and you just let your eyes close for a brief second. Suddenly you’re awake again unsure of how long you’ve been out but thankfully you’re still on the road. There’s a lot of people who’ve fallen asleep at the wheel though, who’s stories don’t end in such a positive manner, but that might soon be impossible, as a new type of car seat has been developed that can actually detect when you’ve fallen asleep.
Researchers at Nottingham Trent University have come up with a way to embed electrocardiogram sensors in a car seat. These sensors detect the heart rate of the driver, which as they lower, can suggest the driver is losing focus. The driver can could then be alerted to this fact and given a warning to pull over and take a break.
What if someone ignores the warning though and falls asleep anyway? That’s where a modification of certain other technologies could come in to play. For example, current lane assistance keeps you in lane if you drift off to the side. However if you fell asleep, this same technology could be used to guide you into the hard shoulder where the brakes could be gently applied, bringing the car to a stop. If may not be the safest place for a driver to be, but it’s certainly safer than driving at speed while unconscious.
Studies are now set to be conducted with the new seats which are going to be produced by UK electronics manufacturer Plessey.
Professor Dias who headed up the development of the seats and will continue to do so as part of the study, said: “Plessey has already demonstrated that cardiac signals can be measured unobtrusively using capacitive sensors mounted within the driver’s seat; the requirement now is to improve the consistency and reliability of the data so that it can be used for the intended purpose.
“This requires a novel approach to the design of the electrodes, and Nottingham Trent University’s knitted conductive textile technology offers the potential to produce robust electrodes that can be easily incorporated into automotive seats.”
As The Telegraph reports, the study is currently going through the funding stage, of which it has raised just over £88,000, which it received from the government’s technology strategy board. It’s not clear at this time where additional funds will come from, but it would be surprising if some company didn’t hand over some extra development funds in exchange for getting its own fingers into the pie.
There is also a potential here for a hook up with Google and other manufacturer’s automated systems, which could potentially take over if a driver were to fall asleep or find themselves unable to operate the vehicle safely, even if all it did was exit the motorway and have them pull up in a safe place.
Image Source: Damian Naidoo