WSU Prof Develops Sleepy Driver Detector

By Tom Bacon

Cars can do amazing things these days - up to and including driving themselves. So some specialized researchers at a WSU lab in Spokane figure a car ought to be able to tell when its human driver is about to doze off.

Professor Hans Van Dongen of the WSU sleep and Performance Research Center in Spokane has developed a new, and inexpensive, system to detect fatigued drivers who are about to nod off behind the wheel. Van Dongen said his new technology is based on steering wheel movements which are more rapid and more variable when drivers are sleepy.

His invention uses easy-to-install parts, including a sensor which measures the position of the steering wheel. He said it could be a factory installation or an aftermarket accessory.

Driver drowsiness detection systems now on the market are video-based. But Van Dongen said they're expensive, cumbersome and don't always work well on snowy or curving roads, in darkness or when lane markers are faded or missing.

Van Dongen and his postdoctoral research fellow, Pia Forsman, developed their steering wheel alert system by using 29 volunteers in their Spokane lab. The volunteers were on a simulated 10-day shift schedule, using driving simulators to drive 30-minute stretches at night. The testing showed that the two factors which best predicted fatigue were variable steering wheel movements and wandering in lanes.

Van Dongen is known for his work in cognitive impairment from sleep deprivation and his modeling of performance impairment due to fatigue. He holds a masters degree in astrophysics and a PhD in chronobiology and sleep from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.

On YouTube: WSU innovation improves drowsy driver detection
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