There has been massive growth in the development of autonomous driving technology, a race in which Google is the current leader. According to data from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, Google has 73 permits in the state for self-driving cars, far above the eight held by the company with the second-most permits, which is Tesla Motors.
However, while self-driving cars are the next big thing and are taking up most of the news regarding the future of vehicles, it is good to see new technology being developed that is focused on the current setup of humans while driving vehicles.
A new report by The Wall Street Journal revealed that major car manufacturers General Motors, Toyota, Volkswagen, Nissan and a few startup companies are carrying out tests for artificial intelligence-powered systems that will monitor the drivers of vehicles. The systems will determine if they are too tired or distracted to be able to drive safely, and the first of these could be launched as soon as next year.
New features to assist drivers, such as radar-enhanced cruise control and lane control, are being marketed as safety features, but in fact they can lead to drivers becoming less attentive.
"We are replacing one set of risks and creating a whole new set of risks," said University of South Carolina law Professor Bryant Walker Smith regarding the so-called safety features. Smith is currently researching liability issues that can be associated with self-driving cars.
A solution for the inattentiveness of drivers would be the artificial intelligence systems being developed, as they could give the car the ability to understand the state of the driver. The systems are currently the project of a group of companies made up of Delphi, Affectiva, Eyeris Technologies and Harman International Industries.
The system that Delphi is working on adds cameras and software to a car to track the movement of the eyes and head of the driver. If the system sees that the gaze of the driver has long been away from the road or if the eyelids have become droopy, the driver will be alerted by a noise and a vibrating seat belt.
Eyeris, on the other hand, has developed software that analyzes the facial expressions of drivers. The system can detect if the driver is exhausted or is suffering from a case of road rage, which will then be responded to by the vehicle.
The systems are being developed to also compensate for the wide adoption of online infotainment technologies by automobile makers, which according to researchers are contributing to the distractions that take the eyes of drivers off of the road.
Drivers are also distracted by the usage of smartphones and other mobile devices while behind the wheel. According to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, drivers are six times more likely to crash when texting while driving, and three times more likely to crash when reaching for their smartphone, looking up a contact or browsing the Internet.
Drivers could choose to turn off these features once they find their way into production vehicles, but the hope is that consumers, car manufacturers and researchers will be able to strike a balance between safety, privacy and convenience to lead to a safer environment for everyone on the road.