Three car technologies that know when you’re too sleepy to drive

Driverless cars like the one above, are still quite a ways off into the future, but it’s easy to understand why robots might be safer drivers than people. We do dumb things like texting while driving, driving drunk and even falling asleep behind the wheel. So it’s interesting to think about how connected cars and the quantified self might meet in ways that help keep bad behaviors off the roads.
One way to do this is to put an ECG sensor in the seat of a car, so it can can measure a driver’s heart rate to detect how alert he or she is. Researchers at the Nottingham Trent University in the U.K., backed by the Technology Strategy Board, aim to figure out how to parse the data and separate the useful bits from the noise. They also want to determine the best way to integrate sensors into the fabric of a car’s seat. If the seat detects a sleepy driver, it would alert him or her, or possibly take control of the vehicle if the person doesn’t respond. It’s like a fancier lane-drift detection system.
Another project I saw this week (hat tip GizMag), called HARKEN (heart and respiration in-car embedded nonintrusive sensors) is a European effort to implant sensors that monitor respiration and heart rate into a car’s seat and seatbelt. The sensors detect when a driver falls asleep behind the wheel. The two-year project ended in June with a working prototype and will be tested on closed roads soon.
Finally, there’s Nissan’s concept project,¬†Nismo. It¬†includes a watch that tracks a driver’s biometrics and integrates with the car to share information about heart rate and road conditions. The concept comes from Nissan’s racing and high-performance division, so this is less about tracking when the driver is falling asleep and more about keeping a race car driver at the peak of performance. However, the idea of such integrations might one day be available to the average consumer via in-car devices like Automatic or Zubie, connected to a fitness tracker such as the Withings Pulse or Jawbone.
In fact, with Automatic and Jawbone (and Withings) channels on IFTTT, maybe there’s a jerry-rigged solution to be made sooner rather than later. All we need are the right triggers.