It started with a cup of coffee.
In attempts to curb drowsy driving, Mercedes-Benz introduced a system that identified clues that a motorist was growing tired, such as how often they departed their lane. If the system detected trouble, it illuminated an icon resembling a steaming cup of coffee on the instrument cluster.
Roughly a decade later, driver-monitoring systems are being readied for wider deployment. From their caffeine-boosting beginnings, these systems have evolved. Today, cabin-facing cameras track a driver's head position and eye gaze. In the future, these systems might assemble profiles of individual drivers and discern their emotions and cognitive capabilities.
"There's a progression in the technology," said Tom Herbert, product director at Veoneer, a Swedish technology company that will introduce a next-generation driver-monitoring system this year centered on human-machine interaction. "It's about, 'How do we improve the relationship between the car and driver, and what are the right pieces of technology to accommodate that?' It really becomes more of a fusion."
As the promise of self-driving vehicles for consumer use remains far off, improving human drivers could result in long-term safety gains. Auto makers and safety groups believe effective driver monitoring paves the way for reductions in traffic deaths as systems safeguard against fatigue, alcohol and drug impairment and inattention. Moreover, driver monitoring offers an additional safety layer to a new wave of advanced driver-assist systems that enable drivers to remove their hands from the wheel—but not their eyes from the road.
These systems include Cadillac's Super Cruise, which launched on the 2018 CT6 sedan and will expand to 22 more General Motors vehicles in the next three years. This month, Ford said it would bring a rival hands-free system called Active Drive Assist to the market, starting with the new Mustang Mach-E. Others developing driver monitoring include Veoneer, Australian supplier Seeing Machines and Israeli startups such as EyeSight Technologies and ADAM CogTec.
Tesla's Autopilot feature has played a prominent, if inadvertent, role in driver-monitoring innovations. Tesla's owners manual says drivers should always keep hands on the steering wheel, and the company measures torque on the wheel to ensure human engagement.