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Tiny Eyetracker watches for sleepy drivers

More innovation in the field of keeping-drivers-awake tech. This time, a dashboard-mounted camera setup that watches a driver's eyes for drowsiness.

Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology

Starting to nod off behind the wheel? Not if the Integrated Eyetracker can help it.

The compact digital camera system, being developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology in Germany, tracks drivers' eye movements. If it spots the peepers shut beyond a user-defined interval, it sounds an alarm to keep the driver from dozing off.

Up to six dashboard-mounted cameras with lenses just 3 to 4 millimeters in diameter keep watch over the motorist, evaluating up to 200 images per second to identify the line of vision, even when a driver's head moves left or right.

"Since the Eyetracker is fitted with at least two cameras that record images stereoscopically--meaning in three dimensions--the system can easily identify the spatial position of the pupil and the line of vision," said Peter Husar, a specialist in bio-inspired computing at Fraunhofer.

The system, which includes a processor about the size of a matchbox, can be installed in any model of car and does not require a PC or laptop.

With research showing that up to one in four traffic fatalities result from driver drowsiness, a growing number of innovations are conspiring to keep drivers awake and focused on the road. These include a steering wheel sensor system by Fujitsu that tracks the heart rate to detect drowsiness, and a car seat that knows when you need a nap.

Fraunhofer's Eyetracker is not yet commercially available. The research organization will present the system at the Vision Expo in Stuttgart in November.