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Drivers are being distracted by a growing number of interfaces within the car – and Australian developed technology is helping bring their attention back to the road ahead.

Australian firm Seeing Machines, a specialist in visual computing systems that track faces and eyes in real time, has developed FOVIO, a Driver Safety System (DSS) that has been proven in the tough mining environment. The company’s DSS solution is a robust, automatic platform that uses cutting-edge eye-tracking algorithms to detect driver drowsiness and distraction in real time. The system has seen the strongest initial response from the mining industry, where the company has partnered with Caterpillar to speed up the uptake of this life-saving technology.

Seeing Machines was founded in June, 1999 by four researchers from the Australian National University – Timothy Edwards, Sebastian Rougeaux, Alex Zelinsky and Jochen Heinzmann. Volvo was represented on the board of directors by Trent Victor. The company started by developing the world’s first stereo driver monitoring system which was the core technology behind Seeing Machines’ first product, faceLAB. The company developed the first Driver Monitoring System (DMS) Technology in the Volvo Concept Vehicle. This allowed Volvo Technology Development (TD) to understand fatigue & distraction in on-road test vehicles using Seeing Machines’ technology.

The Seeing Machines DSS scanners simultaneously track and analyze head alignment, and eye behavior to detect distraction and “micro sleeps” in three dimensions. The system is able to track up to +/- 90 degrees of head rotation and fast head movements, with optional real-time tracking of lips and eyebrows. The algorithms do not rely on color and are therefore able to track faces in the dark using infra-red illumination.

In August 2014 the San-Diego based EyeTracking Inc. (ETI) was appointed as the primary distributor for the FOVIO technology platform to the research & development market. “Given the great relationship that we’ve developed with ETI, and their pioneering work in developing a robust suite of analytic tools, we’re confident that this is the right team to work with to empower the eye-tracking research community. Our entire focus is on our mission to save lives by leveraging operator monitoring technologies. Our approach is to develop strong relationships with the best companies in any market we target,” said Ken Kroeger, CEO of Seeing Machines said in a press statement announcing the appointment.

In September 2014, Seeing Machines partnered with Japanese safety giant Takata. “Before the driverless car arrives there will be generations of semi-autonomous cars. Cars over the next few decades will get smarter and take on an increasing number of tasks, but the majority of cars won’t still need a driver. Even cars smart enough to drive themselves might still need a human copilot. Legislators around the world have mixed views about putting vehicles on the road without a human onboard and qualified to take over in an emergency or to take ultimate responsibility for an accident,” said a statement from Seeing Machines.

“We’re excited about being part of the semi-autonomous and driverless future but Takata and Seeing Machines have a commitment to saving lives by making roads safer now. We’ve been courted by other companies, but the fit with Takata felt right,” added Kroeger.

Automotive Industries asked Nick-Langdale Smith, VP OEM Relationships, Seeing Machines, which OEMs that are using the FOVIO eye-monitoring technology. Smith: We are seeing strong demand for our driver monitoring system from automakers throughout the globe. Many of these auto makers have been using Seeing Machines products for many years in their R&D pipeline, and are now making the transition from the laboratory to production vehicles. Seeing Machines is the only company to have developed automotive-grade eye tracking technology, meeting the stringent performance demands of the automotive industry such as environmental tolerance, cost and size.

AI: What are some of the advanced driver safety systems that have been incorporated in FOVIO for consumer driving? Smith: FOVIO is what we’re calling our next-generation eye-gaze tracking technology, which is being incorporated into our automotive.

Driver Monitoring System (DMS). The DMS will, for the first time, allow vehicles to understand their driver. Whilst cars already gather a great deal of information about the world around them –such as lane tracking, pedestrian detection and collision warning, these features all operate assuming the driver is paying attention. With the proliferation of in-vehicle infotainment and mobile phone use, we don’t believe this to be a reasonable assumption!

Unifying outward facing sensors with driver-facing DMS technology will allow Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) that will enhance safety and improve the driving experience. For example, if you are distracted by your phone and the vehicle detects a traffic situation ahead, it can elect to warn you much earlier than normal, because it can see you are distracted. Another example would be if you change lanes without indicating, current vehicles will generate a warning, which can be suppressed if the vehicle understands you are actually paying attention to the road and intended to change lanes. These are just two examples, but we believe there are dozens of features that auto makers can add once DMS technology is broadly adopted.

AI: What are some of the future developments Seeing Machines is planning on the FOVIO platform? Smith: Seeing Machines works closely with our partners and customers to anticipate their future needs for the technology. We are always seeking ways to make our offering more capable, and we have a long roadmap of ideas we plan to implement. The future could see the use of automotive eye tracking technology assist in understanding driver mental workload, and potentially even the detection of alcohol.

AI: How has Seeing Machine’s technology helped in industries like mining? Smith: The mining industry has seen strong uptake of Seeing Machines DSS system, where the dash-mounted system alerts drivers to dangerous levels of fatigue and inattention. We see a consistent minimum improvement of 70% reduction in fatigue events after a roll-out to a mining vehicle fleet. In a cost-driven industry like mining, accidents that bring production to a standstill can quickly drive costs into the millions. What we are also able to demonstrate is that a fatigued driver is a worse-performing driver, which has serious cost implications. In one of our customer sites, the implementation of DSS led to a reduction in 50% in tire costs. This is because fatigued drivers tended to grind the tires against the shale wall that makes up the “curb” in a mine site. Whilst this might not sound like a big cost factor, a single tire for these haul trucks can cost several hundred thousand dollars, which when scaled across this customer’s global operations meant a $21.9m saving in tire-rubber alone.

AI: Will the cut in vehicle driving fatigue be substantial as well? Please give us some details. Smith: Although it is very difficult to measure, we believe fatigue is a significant factor in road safety, both in private vehicles as well as commercial road transport. Estimates where fatigue is implicated range from 20-40% of all accidents. Though anecdotal only, I’m sure nearly every adult driver has their own story or knows someone who has a “near miss” story due to falling asleep at the wheel. While the only way to prevent accidents due to fatigue is to ensure enough quality sleep, we believe that ADAS that understands driver vigilance is key to making roads safer.

AI: What are the synergies between Seeing Machines and Takata? Smith: Both Seeing Machines and Takata are companies that are committed to saving lives. We both do this by creating products that enhance driver safety. This shared vision provided a very natural fit. The synergies continue into the technical: Takata is one of the world’s largest suppliers of steering wheels. Steering wheels are always in front of the driver, are always close (within arm’s length) of the driver, and are never inaccessible to the driver. It turns out that these are the identical requirements for our driverfacing DMS technology: ensuring a clear view of the driver’s face and eyes. The best place to build the system is into the steering wheel, and Takata’s expertise in steering wheels is instrumental in designing the perfect system.

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