The same minds that brought us the fully iPhone-controlled Dodge Caravan called the “Spirit of Berlin” are at it again, and on April 23, 2010 unveiled a video of an elaborate camera system that can track the eye movements of a driver and steer the vehicle accordingly.
This is two separate things, all rolled up into one.
First, this is the technolgy of future - today! Hands-free technology is big business, and anything that lets people get away from the brute force of digital manipulation is well received by techies and the general public alike. Most of the work in this area has been concentrated on voice-activated technology, or autonomous programming which can respond based on a complex set of variables.
Giving drivers the power to control a car using only their eyes is a stunning accomplishment, and would no doubt result in a feeling of substantial power, hopefully tempered by a dose of great responsibility
Second, it is extremely dangerous. Although the test car was only taken to 30 miles per hour on a controlled track at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport, faster speeds are only a gas pedal press away, and the team is looking to get the car up to 60 mph as soon as possible. Apparently, a closing of the eyes that lasts more than ½ a second will slow the car to a stop, but we’ve seen far too many movies with technology like this running amok to be entirely trusting.
Here are the basics.
The driver wears a modified bicycle helmet, affixed with two cameras, one of which points forward to see the road (the “scene” camera), and one that is pointed directly at the driver’s eye (shockingly, the “eye” camera). Though this technology is miles away from a commercial application, the bike helmet is going to have to go. The resistance to helmets for bike users alone is staggering, and wearing anything in car, the ultimate symbol of metaphorical coolness that degrades said coolness, is going to be heavily derided, regardless of its functional application.
According the video released by Berlin’s Free University, information collected by the eye camera is superimposed on that of the scene camera, and downloaded onto a laptop, which is then relayed to an onboard computer. Calibrated properly, the car will go where the driver is looking.
As the driver looks away from the center of the scene camera view, the car will turn. The greater the distance between the center line of the camera and the person’s viewpoint, the sharper the turn.
Obviously, this technology presents several problems. The first is how to handle the rigors of city traffic, which is hardly comparable to the flat, controlled calm of an out of service airport runway.
The second is the melding of functionalities between application of the gas and break, turning signals, and steering. Currently, it seems as though a substantial percentage of the population either paid or cheated their way through a driver exam, so we’re not sure what giving them the power to drive with their eyes would do to collision statistics.
Ultimately, that’s the biggest concern. Is it really reasonable to assume that drivers will never look at anything but where they want to go? With the amount of constant visual stimuli on roadways, including TV advertisements, pretty girls (and boys) and the general oddities that fill our city streets, there is simply no way that drivers could be that focused, all the time.
The technology is a breakthrough, of that there’s no question, and it could see excellent application in driver assistance for those that are physically impaired, or for low-speed, low-risk use.
But for the general population? For now, this is one we’d best look away from. Sources: CarTech Blog, Berlin Free University