Caterpillar Backs Eye-Tracking Device That Helps Keep Drivers Awake
May 28, 2013

Caterpillar Backs Eye-Tracking Device That Helps Keep Drivers Awake

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Feeling drowsy while operating heavy machinery? Industrial and construction equipment maker Caterpillar is working on a way to combat nodding off for workers who may be pulling 10- or 12-hour shifts.

According to a statement from Caterpillar, the company is planning to integrate eye-tracking technology created by the Australian company Seeing Machines to detect when a driver is becoming sleepy.

Expected to cost up to $20,000 to install on each vehicle, the Driver Safety Solution (DSS) uses a camera to sense a driver's pupil size, how often they blink, and how long they close their eyes. It also tracks the driver's mouth to see if he or she is not looking at the road.

If the system detects a driver closing their eyes for a certain amount of time, around 1.6 seconds or longer, it sounds an alarm in the cabin, using both a loud noise and the vibration of the driver´s seat. If it happens again, the dispatcher or supervisor will be alerted to the potentially drowsy operator. A third alarm is supposed to signal that the driver should be taken off duty and is a potential danger.

"Dependent on the organization´s fatigue mitigation policy, they will then decide what to do with the driver," Ken Kroeger, chief executive of Seeing Machines, told the BBC News. "For most mining companies the first incident doesn't result in any communication.”

“The second one will result in a radio call to see if the driver is OK and possibly get them to pull into the fuel depot and get a cup of coffee to help them keep going,” he said. "And the third incident will result in them being assigned some other tasks instead of driving."

The British news agency also reported that the DSS had reduced fatigue-related incidents by 90 percent during a pilot study at a mining site in Nevada.

The system could have a major impact on construction and industrial trades. For example, Caterpillar controls between 60 and 75 percent of the approximately 38,500 mining trucks in the world. The company said operator fatigue is one of the most prevalent causes of accidents within the mining industry.

Drowsiness has also been cited as a major threat in other public aspects of society. About 100,000 drowsy driving crashes are reported to authorities each year, killing over 1,500 Americans and injuring another 71,000, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Kroger told Wired UK that the DSS could be adapted in the future to not only prevent drowsy driving, but also combat distracted driving and used in conjunction with lane departure alarms and assisted parking systems.

"None of the existing sensors put the driver into the loop. A driver might look over their shoulder at their blind spot before shifting into another lane, but the lane departure alarm will still go off," Kroeger said.

He said a car with the DSS could recognize that a driver had indeed checked the other lanes before merging and not signal an alarm.