Intent on creating a safer operating environment by enhancing the way a vehicle interacts with its driver, Volvo has begun testing a system that assesses the operator's attention level at any given moment and then uses that information to adjust the car's response accordingly. The automaker believes this research into Driver State Estimation will be a key to the development of autonomous vehicles. It's also confident knowledge gained will advance the larger corporate goal of eliminating all deaths or serious injuries in any Volvo vehicle by 2020.
Volvo's driver-awareness system uses a sensor in the dash to monitor the position of a driver's head, where the eyes are focused - and even whether they're focused at all. Tiny LEDs in the sensor emit infrared light rays invisible to the human eye and are used to gather this critical data which is then evaluated in real-time. To the extent the system determines a driver has become distracted, it will allow a number of support functions - which currently include Lane Keeping Aid, Collision Warning with full auto brake and Adaptive Cruise Control with Queue Assist - to swing into action. The system also is capable of trying to wake up a driver it thinks may have fallen asleep at the wheel.
Volvo Cars engineer and project leader for driver support functions, Per Landfors, notes that this interactive system allows more effective use of both current and future on-board safety assists. "For example, the car's support systems can be activated later on if the driver is focused, and earlier if the driver's attention is directed elsewhere." Beyond its primary function, Volvo's sensor-based setup also could be used to transparently perform other types of comfort/convenience-related duties like recognizing a driver and automatically adjusting the seat position or changing cabin light levels.
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