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Your Car Will Soon Be Able To Watch You Pick Your Nose

facial-recognition-softwareAlready, several cars have the technology to realise that you’re drifting and your attention is lagging and, given the time of day according to all the electronics systems and how long you’ve been driving for, that you are likely to be getting sleepy at the wheel.  That’s clever enough as it is and is a huge leap forward when it comes to road safety and crash prevention.  However, there’s an Australian company that is taking things one step further and can actually see by your face that you’re getting tired.

Us humans have this “Gosh, you look tired,” thing down pat.  We can see the bags under the eyes, the dark circles, the lowered lids and the general bleary look.  Sometimes, we’ll ask another person this “Are you OK? You look so tired,” when that person isn’t tired at all.  I used to think, “That poor child doesn’t get enough sleep – there’s always dark circles under her eyes” about one girl I saw a lot until I learned that the dark circles were genetic and not to do with poor sleep.  Nevertheless, we all know how to do it by instinct, at least if we’re not total psychopaths or sociopaths.

The company Seeing Machines is based in our very own Canberra and is working on facial recognition software that picks up when people are looking tired, distracted or drowsy.  The system uses a combination of a collection of discreet cameras trained on the driver – but which aren’t intrusive and in-your-face – plus a cunning computer algorithm that looks at your eyes and works out where you’re looking and for how long.  It also looks at your head movements, your facial movements and your facial expressions, and uses these to detect when you’re getting tired.

Seeing Machines is in the process of developing their fatigue monitoring systems in partnership with various mining and other industry partners, including Takata, who specialise in research and development of automotive safety systems.  Some of the other products that Takata has been involved with are seatbelts and airbags – things we take for granted these days. However, think about what seatbelts looked like back in, say, the 1980s, where an inertia reel seat belt was pretty flash.  Airbags weren’t even heard of then.  However, inertia reels are pretty standard these days and are a lot better than they used to be.  Take pretensioning systems, for example.  Then you’ve got airbags: every new car, even stripped down back-to-basics models have at least one set of airbags; most models have heaps.  Takata is a Japanese manufacturer that is responsible for making these airbags and seatbelts, which the motor mechanics then install in the cars.  This means that when you buy a new vehicle, the seat belts and the airbags will have been outsourced to the specialists (Takata) rather than being made by, say Toyota or Mitsubishi in-house.

Some of Takata’s products are more high-tech, which is why Seeing Machines is partnering with this manufacturer for their driver fatigue monitoring systems.  Things that Takata is already making or is in the process of researching include collision sensors (as seen in pre-collision systems, blind spot warning systems and the like), lane departure warning systems and seat occupant detection systems.

Part of me thinks that Seeing Machines’ technology is brilliant.  We’ve all had those times when we’ve had to drive late at night or very early in the morning and the risk of nodding off is real.  So having a system that sees when your eyelids are drooping and your head is beginning to slump forward slightly, then jerk back as you snap back awake, then slump forward again is a good safety feature.  The Transport Accident Commission says that in Victoria alone, there are 50 deaths per year caused by someone dozing off at the wheel. Given that a car going along at 100 km/h will travel just over 100 m if the driver falls asleep for only four seconds of microsleep, this isn’t surprising.

bigbrotheris watchingHowever, there is another part of me that doesn’t like being looked at and monitored by a computer and a camera, even if this is for my own good.  Seeing Machines’ systems developed for truck fleets also monitor if a driver is taking his/her eyes off the road to check out their phone – and reports this back to the fleet’s HQ.  Sure, a truckie shouldn’t be Facebooking on the phone while out on the road, but is this machine going to tell on you every time you stare out the window at a gorgeous bit of rural scenery for more than a couple of seconds?  If the driver is a woman wearing makeup (or a guy – who are we to judge?) and her eyes water, making her mascara run, does the computer decide that she’s got dark circles under her eyes and is therefore tired?  Does the reporting system send the camera footage back to HQ so whoever’s responsible for checking over the reports gets to see when the drivers are picking their noses or singing along with the radio?  It’s good for safety, but it is a little bit Big Brother.

What’s more, there’s a larrikin part of me that would want to pull stupid faces at the cameras.

What do others think about facial recognition and fatigue sensing systems like these?  Great idea or too invasive?  Tell us what you think.

More information is available at the following websites:

Seeing Machines