New gadget targets fatigue
Friday, 7 September 2007
Richard Blackburn, Sydney Morning Herald
Technology that senses when a driver is tired sounds smart - but will it work here, asks RICHARD BLACKBURN.
Volvo has developed a system for detecting driver fatigue and will introduce it in three models in Europe before the end of the year.
The Driver Alert System, which the Swedish maker claims is a world first, monitors steering inputs and detects signs of erratic driving, which usually indicates a loss of concentration.
Volvo says the technology also will alert drivers if they are being distracted by mobile phones or other passengers. The system sounds a warning if a car drifts out of its lane without the driver using an indicator.
Fatigue is one of the biggest contributors to the road toll, with the Roads and Traffic Authority estimating it causes as many as one in five fatalities.
The Driver Alert System will be introduced in Europe on the Volvo S80, V70 and XC70 at the end of this year and Australian vehicles are likely to have the technology available as an option some time next year.
But there are doubts about whether the technology will be compatible with Australian roads, which have poor line markings in some areas. The system uses a camera to monitor the position of the car in relation to road markings in the centre and at the side of the road.
Volvo says if the markings are inconsistent or visibility is affected by fog or poor weather, the system will not work properly.
Japanese luxury brand Lexus has a similar system available on its top-of-the-range LS460 but has not introduced the technology in Australia for this reason.
Both the Lexus and Volvo systems detect lane changes but the Lexus system also monitors a driver's eyes for signs of fatigue.
Volvo Australia spokesman Todd Hallenbeck claims the new system, which monitors steering inputs, is more reliable than monitoring the driver's eyes, a process that can be too subjective. "We believe it is more accurate to measure steering inputs and movement on the road. All the testing Volvo has done has reinforced this," he says.
The company is keen to introduce the technology locally. "We definitely want to bring it to Australia as soon as possible but we don't have a date yet. Australia is a little different to other countries," he says.
He believes the technology could have a big impact here because of the long distances travelled by car in Australia.
The driver alert system is activated at 65kmh and stays active at speeds exceeding 60kmh. It consists of a camera, a number of sensors and a control unit.
The camera sits between the windscreen and the rear-view mirror and continuously measures the distance between the car and the road lane markings, while the sensors monitor the car's movements.
The control unit then interprets information from both sources and calculates whether the driver risks losing control of the vehicle. If it thinks the risk of a crash is high, it sounds an alert for the driver. A message and a coffee cup symbol appear on the trip screen, advising the driver to stop for a break.
The trip computer also rates the driver's performance through a five-bar graph that drops bars if there's inconsistent driving.
The driver alert control system is backed up by a lane departure warning activated by a button on the console. Volvo says its research shows that a third of crashes involve an initial lane departure, mostly on roads with a speed limit of 75kmh or more.
By the end of this year, the maker will upgrade its collision warning system, which automatically activates the brake if it detects an imminent crash with the car in front.
Similar systems are available on Lexus and some high-end German limousines. Volvo currently has a radar-based system.
The new system, which adds a camera to reduce the number of false readings, will be available in the Volvo S80, V70 and XC70 by year's end. It initially issues a warning tone and shows a red light in a heads-up display on the windscreen if it judges the car to be closing too fast on the one in front. If that is ignored, it lightly squeezes the brakes to reduce speed and finally applies them if it senses a collision is imminent.
Volvo says rear impacts account for a third of crashes and in more than half of rear impacts, the driver doesn't brake at all.