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The Safety Assistant: How electronics technology will help drivers keep passengers safe, Part 1

Nowadays the electronics plays a very important role in the design process of the modern cars, that are progressively becoming safer and smarter: The electronics technology indeed is at the basis of the creation of systems that are able to recognize dangerous situations for the driver, performing some preventive actions to guarantee the safety of the driver and, consequently, to ensure the safety of all the occupants of the car itself.

Among the different types of dangerous situations, that may require firstly a warning message and later, in case of a no sufficient feedback by the driver of the car, some corrective actions on the brakes and on the wheels of the car, there are the conditions of drowsiness of the driver or the case of a distracted driver.

Some examples of dangerous situations of the first type may be represented by long travels on highway roads, with a few number turns, during the nighttime: the driver may fall asleep while driving the car due to drowsiness for the long travel or the physiological need of a rest during the night hours. An electronic system may detect the driver drowsiness and prevent a crash, this will result in protecting the occupants of the vehicle.

Another very dangerous situation is represented by the very sad cases of children left inside the car by a parent reaching the office in a hurry and distracted by daily routinely work commitments: a system recognizing automatically the presence of the kid inside the locked car could save the baby from the risk of exposition to high temperatures due to the sunrays impacting the parked car.

There are many systems to detect the driver drowsiness:

  • Audi: Rest recommendation system
  • BMW: Active Driving Assistant with Attention Assistant analyzes driving behaviour and, if necessary, advises the driver to rest. The advice to take a break is provided in the form of graphic symbols shown on the Control Display
  • Bosch: Driver Drowsiness Detection takes input from the steering angle sensor, front-mounted lane assist camera, vehicle speed and turn signal stalk.
  • Ford: Driver Alert
  • Mazda: Lane Departure Warning System
  • Mercedes-Benz: Attention Assist In 2009, Mercedes-Benz unveiled a system called Attention Assist which monitors the driver's fatigue level and drowsiness based on his/her driving inputs. It issues a visual and audible alarm to alert the driver if he or she is too drowsy to continue driving. It is linked to the car's navigation system, and using that data, it can tell the driver where coffee and fuel are available
  • .

  • Nissan: Driver Attention Alert (DAA)
  • .

  • Subaru: EyeSight Driver Assist
  • Volkswagen: Fatigue detection system
  • .

  • Volvo Cars: Driver Alert Control
  • In 2007, Volvo Cars launched the world's first Driver Drowsiness Detection system, Driver Alert Control. The system monitors the car's movements and assesses whether the vehicle is being driven in a controlled or uncontrolled way. If the system detects a high risk of the driver being drowsy, the driver is alerted via an audible signal. Also, a text message appears in the car's information display, alerting him or her with a coffee cup symbol to take a break. Additionally, the driver can continuously retrieve driving information from the car's trip computer. The starting-point is five bars. The less consistent the driving, the fewer bars remain. (Source wikipedia: Collision Avoidance System).

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The contribution of the electronics technology to the safety systems above is huge, ranging from microcontrollers to elaborate the data taken from the sensors integrated into the smart car, to the proximity sensors that detect an obstacle, which may be for example another car or a pedestrian not seen by the tired driver (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

The SAM V70, an IC microcontroller for automotive applications
 (Source Atmel: SMA-V70 data sheet)

The SAM V70, an IC microcontroller for automotive applications (Source Atmel: SMA-V70 data sheet)

Furthermore the contribution of electronics to a safe driving is much important because there are many automotive electronics systems that are able to avoid a crash by utilizing radars or proximity sensors (see Figure 2):

“A collision avoidance system is an automobile safety system designed to reduce the severity of a collision. Also known as precrash system, forward collision warning system, or collision mitigating system . It uses radar (all-weather) and sometimes laser and camera (both sensor types are ineffective during bad weather) to detect an imminent crash. Once the detection is done, these systems either provide a warning to the driver when there is an imminent collision or take action autonomously without any driver input (by braking or steering or both).” (Source: Wikipedia Collision Avoidance System)

Figure 2

The radar based collision avoidance system by Ford Motor Company 
(Source: motorauthority.com)

The radar based collision avoidance system by Ford Motor Company (Source: motorauthority.com)

In the next parts of this blog series I will deal with the strengths and the potentials of electronics technology when applied to the recognition of driver drowsiness. Do you think these systems could effectively contribute to the safety of the driver? Have you got any of the safety systems described in this article installed in your car? What is your experience regarding driver drowsiness detection systems?

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