A multi-technology device under development could help reduce road accidents caused by driver fatigue. Emma O’Neill reports.

Imagine being pulled over by the police and registering a reading of 0.05 without touching a drop of alcohol.
This scenario is set to become a common occurrence within the next few decades, with the development of a driver fatigue detection device that will provide an almost 100 per cent accurate reading of how sleepy someone is behind the wheel.
The project is being led by Dr Rajinda Senaratne and Professor Saman Halgamuge from the University of Melbourne’s Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Melbourne School of Engineering – a school with a reputation to uphold when it comes to road safety, according to Professor Halgamuge.
“Melbourne’s Professor Peter Joubert is credited with being the instigator of compulsory seatbelt laws during the seventies, so we are proud to be taking the next step in dramatically improving road safety,” he says.
The aim of the project is to develop a device which incorporates three technologies and enables drivers to assess their risk of an accident due to fatigue, a factor responsible for around 30 per cent of road fatalities each year.
The first technology – a night vision camera which measures head movement and blinking – is complete and was the subject of Dr Senaratne’s recently published doctoral thesis.
Dr Senaratne analysed facial features using computer vision, image/signal processing, artificial intelligence and optimisation techniques to determine whether a driver is fatigued. His tests showed with reasonable accuracy that fatigue could be detected using this technology.
Yet to ensure almost 100 per cent accuracy and for the device to become marketable, Dr Halgamuge said the night vision camera will need to be combined with an electroencephalogram (EEG) device that reads electrical brain stimulation.
“Eventually we would like to combine the video technology we have developed with EEG research being carried out at the University of Technology in Sydney, as this would increase accuracy by quite a margin,” he says.
“The problem with this part of the plan at this stage is that EEG technology is quite expensive and would also require the driver to wear a hat-like device,” he says.
“We just don’t see drivers doing this, unless they are told to do so by their employer.”
“We also want this device to be accessible, so we will have to wait till the price comes down and wireless EEG is developed – which isn’t too far off.”
A funding grant application has been submitted by Dr Halgamuge to develop the final layer of technology needed for the driver fatigue detection device – a system that measures gas levels in the car.
“Carbon monoxide makes you sleepy, and we have done preliminary tests that show the longer you drive the more carbon monoxide enters your car,” he says.
“Opening a car window could obviously solve this problem, but what about during winter or in really smoggy cities where this isn’t practical?”
Dr Halgamuge said he hopes to work with RMIT, which has developed technology that can detect carbon monoxide, and incorporate this into the driver fatigue detection device.
While the project being developed by Dr Halgamuge and his team will be the first driver fatigue detection device in the world to incorporate three different technologies, other devices which alert drivers to fatigue are already on the market. However, Dr Halgamuge says these are not 100 per cent accurate and are found only in luxury cars.
“The aim of our project is to create a device that is only a few hundred dollars and able to be inserted into any car and used by any driver,” he says.
Dr Halgamuge says such an accessible device will be a vital tool for responsible drivers wanting to analyse how safe it is for them to drive.
“Just as with drink driving, many people think they are fit to drive when in fact their fatigue levels are really putting them at risk,” he says.
“The only guidelines we have in Australia at the moment are for drivers to stop every two hours, but this is quite vague and not accurate for everyone.
“Our device is based on fact.”
Dr Halgamuge says it will be a few years until this device is on the market, but has high hopes for it once it is able to be commercialised.
“I hope the United Nations will sanction our device as compulsory in all vehicles as it did with seatbelts a few years ago,” he says.
“If this occurs, it could really make an impact in reducing road fatalities.”

Reproduced, with thanks, from
The University of Melbourne Voice
Vol. 5, No. 2  11 May - 8 June 2009