What's all this driver distraction control gizmology about anyhow?

26-07-2018 |   |  By Paul Whytock

Driver error causes around 1.4 million deaths and over 52 million injuries worldwide every year. How much of that is down to driver distraction?

The answer is a lot and we know this thanks to a very important study that was performed in America. This monitored nearly 250 drivers over a year and over 8000 incidents where recorded.

Analysis of these found that 80% of the crashes that occurred had driver inattention or distraction as a causal factor.

In a different study drivers were filmed while driving and very disturbing results showed that drivers spent 15% of the time the vehicle was in motion involved in distracting activities. On average they engaged in a distracting activity once every six minutes.

Clearly these results are shocking and according to RoSPA, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, there are four types of driver distraction; visual, cognitive, biomechanical and auditory.

Let's just look at one element, cognitive distraction. We all like to think that we are being very responsible drivers by using a hands free phone system while driving. Think again.

A National Safety Council white paper says drivers using hands-free mobile phones have a tendency to ‘look at’ but not ‘see’ objects, with estimates indicating that drivers using a mobile phone look but fail to see up to 50% of the information in their driving environment. This is known as ‘inattention blindness’ and means that although drivers are looking through the windscreen, they do not process everything in the road environment that they must know to effectively monitor their surroundings, identify potential hazards and respond to unexpected situations.

But despite all this, hands free mobile use is a lot better than holding a mobile phone and driving with one hand. According to the UK's Department of Transport 24 people a year in the UK die through mobile phone related accidents.

So how can technology diminish driver distraction? One way is with the greater implementation of driver gesture control systems in cars. And if you can throw in with that a technology that will monitor driver attentiveness then those horrific accidents statistics could be reduced.

One particular solution from Eyesight Technologies combines driver attentiveness detection with gesture control. This system monitors the driver for signs of fatigue and when it thinks the driver is showing signs of distraction from tiredness it emits an alarm.

That sounds fairly straightforward but the system can be much more sophisticated than that. If the vehicle developer wants to, the system can be adapted to implement more safety measures such as alerting the vehicle's ACC (Adaptive Cruise Control) system to put more distance between the drivers car and any vehicle ahead of him.

It doesn't stop there. The system contains a driver identification feature that as the driver gets into the vehicle it automatically adjusts settings for seat position, interior temperature, infotainment volume, preferred radio stations and music program.

And this is where gesture control comes in. The sensors that check driver fatigue can also recognise driver gestures with which the driver can control by simple hand movements things like infotainment and interior temperature without taking his eyes of the road.

There is no doubt that car makers are increasingly looking at how they can reduce driver distraction by using HMI (Human Machine Interface) technologies and HMI specialist companies are recognising the market potential for their products in driver distraction applications. Gesture control is a key element in this.

In a recent development semiconductor company Microchip Technology launched a three-dimensional (3D) gesture recognition controller single-chip solution for automotive HMI designs.

This is a capacitive technology-based gesture controller for navigating infotainment systems, sun visor operation, interior lighting and other applications. The technology also supports the opening of foot-activated rear tailgates and any other features a manufacturer wishes to incorporate with a simple gesture action.

The chip is Automotive Electronics Council AEC-Q100 qualified with an operating temperature range of -40 to +125degC and it meets the electromagnetic interference and electromagnetic compatibility requirements of automotive system designs. Each 3D gesture system consists of a sensor that can be constructed from any conductive material, as well as the Microchip gesture controller tuned for each individual application.

A number of technical solutions exist relating to driver gesture control applications. Amongst these are infrared and Time-of-Flight (ToF) technologies, the latter being a method for measuring the distance between a sensor and an object, based on the time difference between the emission of a signal and its return to the sensor, after being reflected back by an object.

But these can sometimes have costs constraints and there are question marks about their ability to function in dimly lit situations or bright sunlight.

There is also another consideration when implementing gesture control systems into a car and this impacts directly on interior car design. No car maker is going to produce an interior that lacks aesthetic appeal and potentially loses sales for the sake of being able to install an albeit safety desirable system like gesture control.

This is where a capacitive single chip solution comes in. Its size and the fact it is compatible with ergonomic interior designs allow designers to innovate with fewer physical constraints. Also the system sensors can be any conductive material and these can be hidden from view.

And there is another advantage to gesture control systems Not only could this technology save lives it could also make the corporate financial bean counters happy.

According to analysts Global Markets Insights the Automotive Gesture Recognition Market could reach $13 billion by 2024 and will exhibit over 40% CAGR during that period.

In-car systems like navigation and multimedia are predicted to grab the lion's share of 60% of the automotive gesture control market by 2024 and Europe is expected to dominate the automotive gesture recognition market with a $6 billion share over the next eight years.

So driver gesture control is a good thing but care with its use is recommended. Looking back at the headline picture of this article we know the driver is adjusting his in-car infotainment system with a two finger gesture, but will the driver next to him in the traffic jam know that or possibly interpret it as gesticulated request to "go away!"


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By Paul Whytock

Paul Whytock is European Editor for Electropages. He has reported extensively on the electronics industry in Europe, the United States and the Far East for over twenty years. Prior to entering journalism he worked as a design engineer with Ford Motor Company at locations in England, Germany, Holland and Belgium.

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