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New Concept Car Detects Distracted Drivers, Then Warns Them

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Continental's "Halo" light in its "Driver Focus" concept car

Continental’s “Halo” light in its “Driver Focus” concept car. Image courtesy Continental.

In its “Vision Zero” plan to create a future with no traffic accidents and fatalities, Continental Automotive has debuted a “Driver Focus” concept vehicle that uses state of the art technologies to combat driver distraction, as Michael Wayland reports for MLive.com.

Continental introduced the Driver Focus vehicle, a retrofitted Cadillac XTS, on Thursday at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show, Douglas Newcomb writes for MSN Autos’ “Exhaust Notes” column. Newcomb points out that this concept car seeks to avoid a driver’s taking safety warning alarms for granted:

… [A]s 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.

Continental designed this concept car to gauge a driver’s distraction level before activating any warning systems, Newcomb writes. Engineers combined driver-assist systems and an infrared camera to constantly scan the driver’s face to detect when he or she is not paying attention to the road.

At the Auto Show, Tejas Desai, Continental’s head of interior electronic solutions, told MSN Autos that Continental built onto a Cadillac XTS’s lane-departure warning system and adaptive cruise control:

‘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.’

When the system finds that the driver’s eyes are not on the road, it goes into “Halo” mode, 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, Newcomb writes. Continental calls the attention-guilding light a “comet.” Desai said, “Intuitively, your eyes want to follow it, sort of like a shooting star.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation says that every day, 10 people are killed and more than 1,100 people are injured in car accidents involving distracted driving, as a Continental press release notes.

You can see Newcomb’s video demonstrating the concept car here:

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