Tiredness causes one in six accidents but fitting new cars with a driver fatigue system could improve every motorist’s safety out on the road. If manufacturers were too deeply embed a facial recognition system with the current pre-crash detection technologies, drivers would effectively have a 24/7 co-pilot on their shoulder. A guardian angel ready to react at a nanosecond’s notice.

Since the end of last year, a shortage of lorry drivers has hit our national headlines; there’s a current need for around 45,000 HGV drivers across the UK. The current strain on hauliers means more shifts for already overworked drivers, but there’s a solution to help improve safety, facial recognition.

This current tech can be found in everything from TV’s to smartphones, but now it could help alleviate dangerous instances of truck driver fatigue, helping keep all of us safe on Britain’s roads.

What is facial recognition?

In its most basic form, facial recognition uses cameras to identify a person via their facial features, placement of the eyes, nose, mouth and possibly any other distinguishing features like the hairline.

How does facial recognition work?

Camera systems that recognise specific objects were only found in manufacturing up until a few years ago, that was due to the fact they required so much power to feed the hungry processors that churned the data which figured out what each picture was. With the advent of smaller, highly optimised computing chips, image and facial recognition can now be built into pretty much anything.

There are numerous systems on the market, either using 2D or 3D camera setup. Most of the 2D units use two cameras mounted in the dash to give a stereoscopic view of the world in front of them. The 3D systems can utilise a single camera. There are also newer, more modern systems that rely on infrared camera which can see better in low light and night scenarios.

Key Facts and Stats:

  • One in six crashes that cause death or injury is due to driver fatigue
  • 40% of fatigue-related crashes happen in heavy goods vehicles
  • 46% of UK crashes are down to drivers not looking properly
  • Most fatigue crashes happen on long journeys taken on monotonous roads, like motorways
  • The majority of these tiredness related accidents occur between 2 am and 6 am

The cameras capture the scene in the form of images multiple times a second, these are fed to a microprocessor that makes sense of the image by picking apart various data points. If the drivers head has started to tilt, their eye line isn’t straight ahead, maybe their blink rate has increased, or the redness in their eyes is becoming more intense. They can also track body and head position within the car and even how many occupants are in the vehicle.

Facial recognition for driver fatigue and distraction

From here the system will decide if any intervention is needed, this could be in the form of an audible warning or a light, a vibration of the seat or steering wheel and possibly even a slight take-over of the vehicle controls – slowing the car down or moving lane to a lower speed.

Facial Recognition vs Facial Detection

Detection and recognition of human faces are two entirely different things; one is far superior to the other.

Detection merely classifies an object as something, faces in this instance. Facial detection mostly relies on the front of the human face, it then uses a grey-level image to detect all the valleys. Another algorithm is used to identify eyebrows, the irises and the corners of someone’s mouth. This builds up enough of a picture to verify a human face.

Recognition is far more complexed; this is the ability to differentiate between two people. It’s known as a bio-metric detection device; it also means the user has to be enrolled into the system. An individual’s face is photographed from one, or many different angles allowing the system to build up a virtual image for easy identification.

How can facial recognition improve lousy behaviour or fix driver fatigue?

One in six crashes that cause death or injury is related to fatigue, with 40% of fatigue-related crashes involving heavy goods vehicles, truck driver fatigue is one of the most significant dangers on the roads. Facial recognition can change that, as well as remedying road rage.

A system that continually checks a driver’s alertness is vital when long distances are being travelled, especially in HGV’s. If a driver appears to be nodding off, it could automatically switch off cruise control, slowing the vehicle gradually before the system gives an audio alert to the driver. Alternatively, a call could be initiated to the fleet manager, warning that the driver is overtired, he could then speak to the driver directly and tell him to take a break.

Another use of facial recognition software built into a truck is to minimise or help improve bad behaviour. Road rage is unacceptable when you’re in a car, but to see red in a 30-ton truck can be deadly. Tracking a driver’s facial movements can tell the software if they are calm, or angry. Depending on the vehicles current situation the software could increase the gap between the car in front, or set the current ambience to a more relaxed atmosphere.

How can facial recognition improve fleet management?

Looking after a fleet of drivers can be hard work, you need to know where your drivers are at all times, how long they’ve been driving and if they’re safe out on the roads.
This is where facial recognition steps in, not only can you monitor where a driver is looking but you can also keep an eye on their emotions, from surprise, to fear and even anger. This can be used to determine how a particular driver is feeling, are they happy in their work, are they comfortable? Maybe they’re easily frustrated and need to calm down when out on the road, or are they spending too much time distracted making phone calls.
You’ll also be able to identify and verify who is driving just by the driver getting into the cab, no more check sheets or paperwork needed.

How facial recognition impacts road safety?

Roughly 46% of crashes in the UK are caused by drivers not looking correctly, a further 18% are down to carelessness or reckless driving. If a facial recognition system was to be installed into every car, the drivers head movements and reactions could be monitored; this can be fed back to the motorist, so they can improve their bad habits.
Deeply embedding what a facial recognition system sees with other vehicle safety systems could lead to even greater crash prevention measures. If you’re eyes leave the straight ahead position for more than a few seconds the car could automatically start braking, priming the brake cylinder and tightening the seatbelts in case of an accident.

Key Distrraction for drivers according to Brake! Road Safety Charity

If these systems become prominent, the guardian angel effect of having current systems like active city braking and pre-collision detection would increase exponentially. You’d effectively be driving around in a virtual tech bubble that could be your 24/7 co-pilot.

Conclusion
While there are many dark and devious ways facial recognition can be used throughout the world, a set of virtual eyes watching out for you on the road could save your life. With autonomous vehicles fast becoming a reality, manufacturers will need to know if you’re paying attention behind the wheel. It won’t be long before every car on the road is fitted with facial recognition technology.

Learn more about Facial Recognition and Detection here