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Driver monitoring systems: Needs, regulations, popular use cases and trends

Posted March 14, 2022
Photo of a person driving a car with the car's GPS system in view

For decades, automobile manufacturers have developed innovative technologies to make driving a safer experience. Advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) — technologies that can control acceleration, deceleration and steering — were available as early as the 1950s with the introduction of anti-lock brakes. Today, more advanced systems like highway driving assist and autonomous emergency braking are becoming available in the pursuit of consumer-level self-driving vehicles.

While a fully autonomous car isn’t a reality today, as vehicles begin to take over more of the driving tasks, drivers may begin to rely too heavily on the ADAS, shifting their attention away from the road and on to other activities. This can lead to unsafe driving conditions. To help prevent accidents due to driver drowsiness or inattention, artificial intelligence (AI) in the form of driver monitoring systems (DMS) are proving to be effective, and governing bodies around the world are beginning to recognize their importance.

What is a driver monitoring system?

A DMS is a real-time system that collects observable information about the driver that tests their ability to perform dynamic driving tasks safely. The vehicle is equipped with a camera/sensor built into the dashboard and aimed at the driver’s face. These systems can detect distracted and drowsy drivers by accurately measuring eye and head position, driver attention and fatigue.

The DMS also detects driver vigilance by measuring engagement in multi-tasking activities like eating, drinking, using a cell phone or even blinking and yawning during driving. When the AI detects any of these distraction events, the DMS will invoke an action, for example, it will send alerts in real time, signaling the driver to become more vigilant and take necessary actions to avoid accidents.

Not only does a DMS play an integral part in driver safety, its reliable analysis of the driver’s state enables the development of technologies that are critical for supporting highly autonomous driving functions, like safe hands-off-wheel operation.

DMS regulations in China, the EU and the U.S.

In 2018, Jiangsu was the first province in China to implement regulations requiring long-distance trucks and vehicles transporting hazardous goods to use driver monitoring. But these regulations are only a first step, and notices including other types of vehicles are expected to follow soon.

In November 2019, The Council of the European Union voted to adopt regulations to mandate the presence of advanced safety systems in automobiles by mid-2022. Under the new rules, all motor vehicles including trucks, buses, vans and sport utility vehicles will have to be equipped with DMS. Functionality must include driver drowsiness and attention warning systems as well as advanced driver distraction warning systems. According to the European Commission, with the new regulation in place, it is believed that at least 140,000 serious injuries will be avoided by 2038.

In the United States, The House of Representatives passed the Moving Forward Act on July 1, 2020, a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill designed to make roads safer. One of the safety measures included in the Act is to make the installation of technology that detects inattentive or intoxicated driving mandatory in newly-produced vehicles. In April 2021, The Stay Aware For Everyone (SAFE) Act of 2021 was introduced in the Senate, which would require U.S. regulators to mandate the installation of DMS to ensure motorists are engaged while using semi-autonomous driving systems. If the legislation is passed, every new car would need to adopt some version of the technology by 2027.

It’s not just formal government regulations that are impacting the adoption of DMS, however, consumer advocacy groups and safety organizations are also recognizing the important role this technology plays in creating safer roads. For example, the Euro NCAP — a European, government-backed group that rates cars for safety — revised its crash-test safety standards to require cars to have a DMS in order to earn a five-star safety rating. Additionally, Consumer Reports — an independent, American nonprofit organization dedicated to product testing, consumer-oriented research, advocacy and more — is rewarding vehicles that pair a DMS with driving assistance features with higher overall scores.

Popular driver monitoring system use cases

With the widespread adoption of DMS around the globe, we are witnessing an increase in the number of use cases auto-makers are exploring. Here’s a look at some of the most popular use cases for DMS today.

Image/camera and ultrasonic sensors are increasingly being used to detect driver drowsiness or inattention while driving. The commonly-tracked parameters and use cases include:

Person driving car with annotations meant to convey eye movement tracking or blink monitoringPerson driving car with annotations meant to convey facial expression detectionPerson driving car with annotations meant to convey head movement detectionPerson driving car with annotations meant to convey intoxication detectionPerson driving car with annotations meant to convey object passenger detectionPerson driving car with annotations meant to convey seat belt adjustment monitoringPerson driving car with annotations meant to convey human vs non-human occupancy detectionPerson driving car with annotations meant to convey accurate hand and pose trackingPerson driving car with annotations meant to convey gesture detectionTwo frames depicting people driving cars with annotations meant to convey driver monitoring systems

Eye movement tracking or blink monitoring Facial expression detection Head movement detection Intoxication detection Object/passenger detection Seat belt adjustment monitoring Human vs non-human occupancy detection Accurate hand and pose tracking Gesture detection Static poses and dynamic poses

The future of driver monitoring systems

As driver monitoring systems become more advanced, auto manufacturers will not only focus on driver drowsiness detection, but also driver health and comfort.

Advanced systems are preparing to detect heart rate and/or breathing patterns and will have the ability to guide the driver to a hospital or inform their doctor if they show any symptoms of a heart attack.

Person driving car with annotations meant to convey heart rate monitoringPerson driving car with annotations meant to convey heart rate and respiration rate monitoring

Heart rate monitoring Heart and respiration rate monitoring In the coming years, driver monitoring systems will also have an improved understanding of human behavior and will focus on passengers’ comfort levels, what they prefer when it comes to entertainment and more. For example, gesture recognition will be used to change the temperature in the vehicle, reduce music volume or allow the driver to have a conversation with a voice assistant.

As DMS mandates across the globe become more commonplace, the demand for these systems will continue to increase. And while it is clear that the major benefits of DMS are primarily focused on safety, as the technology evolves, it will play a more integral role in improving the entire driving experience.

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