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New Technology Will Alert Drivers When They Are Drowsy

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Harken Scheme, courtesy of the Harken project

Harken Scheme, courtesy of the Harken project

Aiming to prevent drowsy driving, a group of European companies and institutes has developed a system called Harken that uses sensors in vehicle seats to monitor a driver’s heart rate and breathing rate, as Ben Coxworth reports for Gizmag. As Harken’s website says, “Wouldn’t you want an alarm to go off if you fall asleep driving?” 

The Harken project’s aim is to unobtrusively measure both heart rate and respiratory rhythms in an “environment of vibrations and user movements” via smart materials embedded in the seat cover and the seat belt, the site says. The system will filter out the noise and vibrations coming from a moving vehicle and focus on those coming from a driver’s heart and breathing, Harken writes. That data will be sent “in a readable format” to a fatigue detector.

Drowsy driving accidents are expected to be the third most common cause of death and disability worldwide by 2020, Harken writes. Of all of the ways to prevent drowsy driving — road infrastructure design, vehicle features, media campaigns directed at drivers and automakers, laws, and enforcement — a Harken-type system is the most direct, and it’s one the automotive industry and suppliers of technology components can contribute to, Harken writes.

Coxworth writes that if the system determines that a driver is becoming dangerously fatigued, Harken will sound an alarm “or otherwise alert” the driver. The technology has already been tested on a closed track, with real-world tests on actual roads to take place soon, he adds.

An article on Ruvid quotes José Solaz, director of Innovation Markets Automotive & Transportation of the Institute of Biomechanics of Valencia, Spain (IBV), which will monitor the physical activity of the drivers in tests, and be responsible for conducting experiments:

‘[T]he change in heart rate and respiratory rate are good indicators of the state of the driver as they are related to fatigue. I mean, when you go into a state of fatigue or drowsiness modifications appear in breathing and heart rate monitoring that can detect these constants and therefore warn the driver before the onset of symptoms of fatigue.’

Prior to the invention of Harken, there was no other way to noninvasively measure a driver’s heart rate and respiratory rhythm, Ruvid writes. IBV is a leading technological center in studying the behavior of the human body, according to Harken.

In addition to IBV, the Harken Project consortium is composed of a multinational group of participants. The project coordinator is Borgstena Group Portugal, a leading supplier of textiles to the automotive industry, with roots in Sweden. Sensing Tex of Barcelona, known for developing intelligent textiles, will create a new type of material and inks with smart capabilities (such as transmitting data and electrical current, emitting light and heat, and harvesting energy) adapted to the needs of the sensors. The German company Alatex is involved in developing and producing the seat belts. The Portuguese company Plux Wireless Biosignals “will integrate functions in definition of specifications and measurable variables, as well as signal processing.”

Also involved in Harken are Eesti Innovatsiooni Instituut of Estonia, whose role includes designing the Signal Processing Unit and A/D front end, Harken writes. Finally, the University of Manchester, in England, will oversee all research related to the testing of materials, and will help to design algorithms to process the medical signals that the smart materials record.

Here is a video about Project Harken:


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