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Eye Tracker May Save the Lives of Drowsy Drivers (and Everyone Around Them)

Don't fall asleep while driving Driver fatigue or drowsiness is a significant factor in a large number of vehicle accidents. Recent statistics estimate that annually 1,200 deaths and 76,000 injuries can be attributed to fatigue related crashes. Similarly, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), about 100,000 crashes are the direct result of driver drowsiness each year. Several recent studies indicate that about 10-20% of all accidents are likely sleepiness-related, and distraction has been a contributing factor of up to 78-80% of all accidents and incidents.

What is the need of an eye tracking system or device?
The development of technologies for detecting or preventing drowsiness at the wheel is a major challenge in the field of accident avoidance systems. Because of the hazard that drowsiness presents on the road, methods need to be developed for counteracting its affects.

Complete loss of control that could eventually lead to a devastating or even fatal accident is a fact if the driver diverts from the driving task for just a few seconds. Therefore, a continuous attention to driving is a must in order to drive in a safe way. But it is also known that humans are easily being distracted or drowsy especially due to lack of sleep, tiredness or a combination of both.

What is drowsiness?
Drowsiness is the transition between wakefulness and sleep during which oneís abilities to observe and analyze are strongly reduced.

What is eye tracking?
Eye tracking has also found applications in other areas including monitoring human vigilance, gaze-contingent, smart graphics, and assisting people with disability. Driversí eye detecting systems are designed to help reduce the exposure of drivers to crashes by helping the driver preemptively avoid them.

Simply speaking, the eye tracking technology records images of the eyes in different dimensions to determine the line of vision, even when the driver's head moves from one side to the other.

What are the properties of an ideal eye tracking system?
Visual technology experts believe that the requirements for any effective drowsy driver detection system should be as follows:

  • A non-intrusive monitoring system that will not distract the driver
  • A real-time monitoring system, to insure accuracy in detecting drowsiness
  • A system that will work in both daytime and nighttime conditions

What does an eye tracking system do?
The focus has been placed on designing a system that will accurately monitor the open or closed state of the driverís eyes in real-time. By monitoring the eyes, it is believed that the symptoms of driver fatigue or drowsiness can be detected early enough to avoid a car accident. Detection of drowsiness involves a sequence of the observation of eye movements and blink patterns.

The system basically works around the principle of image processing judges the driverís alertness level on the basis of continuous eye closures, monitoring a driver's eye movements and sound an alarm before he or she falls asleep at the wheel.

Information about the head and eyes position is obtained through various self-developed image processing algorithms. During the monitoring, the system is able to decide if the eyes are opened or closed. When the eyes have been closed for too long, a warning signal is issued in the form of an alarm. In addition, during monitoring, the system is able to automatically detect any eye localizing error that might have occurred.

Why an eye tracking system is better than the other driverís alert systems?
Driver operation and vehicle behavior can be implemented by monitoring the steering wheel movement, accelerator or brake patterns, vehicle speed, acceleration, and body displacement. These too are non-intrusive ways of detecting drowsiness, but are limited to vehicle type and driver conditions. The final technique for detecting drowsiness is by monitoring the response of the driver. This involves periodically requesting the driver to send a response to the system to indicate alertness. The problem with this technique is that it will eventually become tiresome and annoying to the driver. An eye tracking technology, on the other hand, does not annoy the driver and is virtually non-existent to the driver.

In addition, such an eye tracking system for drowsy drivers offers following additional benefits:

  • Image processing through cameras achieves highly accurate and reliable detection of drowsiness.
  • Image processing through cameras offers a non-invasive approach to detecting drowsiness without the annoyance and interference.
  • Image processing consistently and continuously judges the driverís alertness level on the basis of continuous eye closures.

Based on the above facts and figures, it can be suggested that a good eye tracking system offers several benefits over other drowsiness detection or driverís alert systems and may lead to drowsy drivers driving longer and safer.

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