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Chicago 2013: Concept car fights alarm fatigue with facial scanning

Continental Driver Focus concept uses an eye-tracking camera and directional interior lights to shift a driver's eyes back to the road ahead.

By Douglas Newcomb Feb 7, 2013 1:48PM

Continental’s Driver Focus concept. Photo by Continental.Driver assist” systems in vehicles such as lane-departure warning and blind-spot detection have done a good job alerting motorists to dangers they might not otherwise notice. They’ve also done a good job of addressing driver distraction.


But as in the fable of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” the bells, whistles and flashing lights that are used as warnings can become easy to ignore when triggered repeatedly or, worse, from false alarms. Doctors in hospitals refer to this numbing sensation  as "alarm fatigue" -- an all-too-common situation that can turn deadly when a warning is actually real.

That’s the reason behind a new safety concept car from Continental that debuted at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show on Thursday. Unlike most assist systems, the camera in this concept car can gauge a driver's distraction level before activating any warning systems.


The auto supplier has also come up with a new warning system that’s hard to ignore -- and that redirects a driver’s eyes to a potential problem.


Continental’s Driver Focus conceptBy mating production driver-assist systems with an infrared camera, Continental's Driver Focus concept constantly scans a driver’s face to detect when he isn’t paying attention to the road.

“What we did was integrate a lot of the driver-assist systems on the car today -- we got a Cadillac XTS from a dealer that has lane-departure warning and adaptive cruise control -- and take the data from those systems and add on to it,” Tejas Desai, Continental’s head of interior electronic solutions, told MSN Autos at the show.


“What we added was an infrared camera that looks up at the driver to see where his gaze is,” he said. “It’s taking the shape of his eye sockets, his nose and chin to see whether he’s looking straight ahead at the road or to the left or the right or down -- somewhere other than the direction he needs to look.”


With the camera watching, the software can detect whether a driver is looking straight ahead and therefore not repeatedly sound an alarm for the forward-collision warning system when it's unnecessary. That's just one example.

“All of these warnings should be relevant only when you need it,” Desai said. “They shouldn’t constantly yell, ‘There’s a car stopping in front of you! There’s a car stopping in front of you!’ It should only tell you when you need it.”


To bring the driver's attention and eyes back to where they should be, the second aspect of Continental’s Driver Focus concept is what the company calls Halo, a single-line lighted display that encircles the car's passenger compartment and flashes based on where it wants to direct the driver’s attention.


“We did some work on how you get the driver’s focus from some other place to where the danger is,” Desai said. “Some things are intuitive, like a flashing red light. But one of the things we came up with is what we call a ‘comet’ -- part of the strip lights up and moves. Intuitively, your eyes want to follow it, sort of like a shooting star. It’s very instinctive; it’s not something you have to learn or think about it.”


It's also something that’s difficult to ignore.


Check out our hands-on with the concept in the video below.

 [Source: Continental]

Feb 7, 2013 3:34PM
 I see the same type of fatigue with traffic signals. Flashing lights in school zones, sharp curves, crosswalks etc.... Eventually they're simply ignored or forgotten by the driver that drives through them everyday. I've actually found myself guilty of it....only to be reminded when I see a motorist pulled over. I pay attention for a few days and then see myself falling back into the bad habits.  I like the concept car and the idea behind attacking the fatigue. If it works and saves lives/property then it's worth it.
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