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Now technology of a different kind may help to solve

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Unformatted text preview: out 1.5 million every year— result at least in part from inattentive drivers. Technology contributes to this problem, cluttering up the cabin with phones, DVD players, touch-screen maps and other doodads. Now technology of a different kind may help to solve it. In 2003 Volvo added an attention management system to its S40 sedans. Sensors pick up steering actions, accelerator position and other vehicle dynamics. They feed into a computer, which looks for evidence of swerving, overtaking or hard braking. When it notices such demanding maneuvers, the system suppresses nonsafety-critical messages from the onboard phone, navigation system, warning lights, and so on. In June, Motorola and DaimlerChrysler demonstrated a minivan outfi tted with a similar system. More recently, Volvo has been testing cameras that can detect drowsy eyelids and suspicious lane crossings [see illustration at right]. Last March the European Union launched a four-year, €12.5-million project to develop industrywide standards for adaptive driver-vehicle interfaces by 2008. Engineers must still solve many tricky issues. “Liability is a major stumbling block in the U.S.,” observes Trent Victor, who designs driver awareness systems for Volvo. Automakers must be certain the computer will not make a bad situation worse, even if the driver uses it improperly. Indeed, it seems inevitable that as the system adapts to drivers, drivers will adapt right back. “There are people today who use the rumble strips [which buzz when a car approaches the edge of a road] as a way to help them watch TV,” Trent says. — W.W.G. c F a d c e d b e “CONSIDER ATE CARS” o f the future could combine a variety of systems to sense the attention level of the driver and prevent dangerous distractions. In this example, Alice is driving at high speed in heavy traffic, but her concentration is interrupted by a rambunctious daughter. The car ahead has begun to brake as it enters a construction zone. But at the same moment, Alice’s mobile phone receives a call, and the onboard navigation system decides to alert her to an upcoming exit. a M IND THE GAP: A short-range radar mounted on the front of the car notices that the vehicle ahead is getting closer. The adaptive cruise-control system automatically eases off the gas and gently applies the brake to maintain separation. Such systems are already available on certain luxury cars. b I T’S A SIGN: A f orward-looking video camera watches the road. An onboard computer continually scans the video for lane markers and road signs. It recognizes the construction warning ahead and raises the car’s estimate of the current burden on the driver’s attention. Alexander Zelinsky and his co-workers at the Australian National University have demonstrated such sign-reading systems. W ATCHING THE WATCHER: L EDs on the visor shine invisible infrared light into Alice’s eyes; a small infrared camera picks up the reflections from her pupils and deduces the direction of her gaze. If the driver takes her eyes off the road or shows signs of drowsiness, an icon in the instrument...
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