IR Technology Enhances Driver Safety

Driver safety and awareness features are becoming standard, marking a change in OEM options for new vehicles. A few short years ago, display systems, steering wheel-mounted controls, and heads-up displays were rare items relegated to only top-of-the-line luxury vehicles.

However, with the insurance industry recognizing the value of these technologies in reducing accidents and hence lowering their payout liability, car manufacturers have been quick to adopt the technologies, thus providing a reduced cost of ownership on their cars.

One of the major cost reduction technologies comes from using high-intensity IR-based subsystems. These IR systems, such as those available from OSRAM, typically consist of an IR LED or solid-state laser source along with either a standard IR detector or a full multi-pixel solid-state image sensor and an image processing IC.

These systems have been around for decades, are in full production, and have been cost reduced from other industries, making their use in both drivers assistance (traditional automotive specification) and in-cabin applications. The advances in the processing and power efficiency now allow the components to work over the full -40°C to +105°C temperature range, and have almost no heat issues that would impact their placement in-cabin near the occupants.

One of the areas in which these devices are being used is for in-cabin touchless gesture control. Using an array of IR sources and detectors, the system can now detect specific gesture controls such as up, down, scan, and select.

Since there is a distributed array of detectors, the system can tell if the motion of the gesture is from left to right or right to left. This allows the system to determine if the command is coming from the driver or the front seat passenger. As a result, the head unit system can limit the functions and options based on the rules for distracted driver regulations.

As one example, selecting pre-sets on the entertainment system may be allowed for the driver, but from the passenger side, full access to adjustments of the infotainment system are possible.

A new application that is possible from these IR systems is Drowsy Driver detection. This is a setup that uses high-intensity 900 to 960-nm IR sources with a multi-pixel image sensor detector subsystem. Like a standard visual spectrum imaging setup, the system works by doing image processing on the face of the driver to tell if his or her eyes are open or closed (image courtesy of Osram). The advantage of the IR system is it is not impaired if the driver has glasses or sunglasses.

The high-intensity low-power IR LED sources help create a full closed loop for the signal processing flow that is in the millisecond range, so it creates timely alarms. As these components are similar to the function in the gesture detection application, in addition to open or closed eyes, it can detect head motion to see if the driver is nodding off, without a change in the driver's eyelid position.

The use of IR as the subsystem allows the pricing of these applications, not only to be put in to high-end luxury cars, but to be cost-effective enough to be designed in as standard features on entry-level and economy cars.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in EBN's sister publication EDN .

12 comments on “IR Technology Enhances Driver Safety

  1. prabhakar_deosthali
    January 31, 2014

    Nice suggestion about using this technology in classroom!

    About this technology being used to detect drowsy driver,  a split second of closed eyes  of the driver is enough for the vehicle to veer off the track and create a hazardous situation.

    Will this system be fast enough to wake up the driver in such cases within that split second time frame?

  2. ahdand
    January 31, 2014

    Good option to have but I feel this might distract the driver. Not sure whether it has been already tested but if so please forward me the findings.

  3. Houngbo_Hospice
    January 31, 2014

    @prabhakar: The technology itself can cause more harm than good. A drowsy driver who relies on the technology to wake him up, may be disappointed.

  4. Houngbo_Hospice
    January 31, 2014

    @nimantha.d: This kind of device is not fit for a car- period. I hope people who create it will understand that and potential users will use it at their own risk.

  5. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    January 31, 2014

    @Rich, i had at least one instructor that used a blackboard eraser as a drowsy student slumber mitigator.. but guess since there are no more blackboards it might be time to look at a new system. 🙂

  6. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    January 31, 2014

    I read  a new report by the Centers for Disease Control found that roughly 1 in 24 adults admit they have fallen asleep or nodded off while driving in the last month. That's a pretty startling statistic… i'm amazed technology hasn't addressed it before this.

  7. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    January 31, 2014

    I believe these systems are not meant to make driving drowsy easy or reasonable. It's more for those hopefully rare times when people overestimate how awake they are. The 2013 Ford Fusion irings an alarm if it detects the car drifting out of its lane. Mercedes has an “Attention Assist” feature that compares a person's driving style during the first few minutes of a trip with  later in the trip. That one has a warning that the driver should consider resting.  i'm sure there are other cars that have similar features.

  8. Eldredge
    February 4, 2014

    car manufacturers have been quick to adopt the technologies, thus providing a reduced cost of ownership on their cars

    This is true only if the insurance companies pass the savings on to car owners AND the savings exceeds the cost of implementation. Of course, the benefit to life and limb will far exceed the monetary benefits in any case.

  9. Eldredge
    February 4, 2014

    @Hailey – the eraser is old technology – but it still works well!

  10. Adeniji Kayode
    February 22, 2014

    @Hospice, you made a good observation there. our daily lives keep depending on so many gadgets and we keep adjusting to the complexities of these devices to the points that we sometimes forget that the efficiency of every machine is always less than 100%.

  11. Adeniji Kayode
    February 22, 2014

    @Hailey, you mentioned amazing functions that technology can bring us but are drivers allowed to turn off these functions sometimes if they choose not to be monitored. if yes, can we still assume that these cars are safe to drive anytime any day, will the effect of being able to turn off these monitors not be the same as when they are not available in a car?

  12. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    March 13, 2014

    These are all good questions, Adenji. I think there has to be some interplay betwee the designer and the end user. It really depends on the function. For example, I can't turn off my passenger side airbags so i make my youngest daughter sit in the back seat. My car is not really fancy (a 10 year old Toyota) so i'm sure that if you are willing to pay more you'd have more control.

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