Jaguar Land Rover has revealed a series of new research projects with the goal of developing innovative safety technologies to reduce the number of accidents caused by over-stressed and distracted drivers. The U.K.-based team will integrate advances made in a variety of other industries to monitor the driver’s health and mental state, communicate with him, and enable easier control over basic vehicle functions.

“We believe some of the technologies currently being used in aerospace and medicine could help improve road safety and enhance the driving experience,” said Dr. Wolfgang Epple, Director of Research and Technology at Jaguar Land Rover. “The car is becoming more intelligent and more able to utilize cutting-edge sensors. These research projects are investigating how we could exploit this for the benefit of our customers and other road users.”

The research projects, dubbed “Sixth Sense,” will investigate potential technological benefits in a variety of different areas. These include monitoring things like the driver’s brainwaves, heartbeat, and respiration rate to detect if he is tired, stressed or distracted; predictive gesture controls for the infotainment system to keep his attention centered on driving, and haptic signals sent through the pedals for more immediate feedback.

The new projects are a continuation of JLR’s previous proposals to offer cutting-edge technology to make their cars both safer and easier to drive, which in the past has included things like augmented reality. 

Continue reading to get the low-down on just how crazy some of these proposals really are.

In-Car Mind Reading

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This one is by far the most out-there. Check out this quote from Dr. Epple:

“One key piece of new research is to see how we could measure brainwaves to monitor if the driver is alert and concentrating on driving. Even if the eyes are on the road, a lack of concentration or a daydream will mean the driver isn’t paying attention to the driving task. They may miss a warning icon or sound, or be less aware of other road users so we are looking at how we could identify this and prevent it causing an accident.”

If the system detects that the driver is tired or distracted, a warning signal will be issued, such as with an in-dash icon or sounded chime, or through a vibration sent via the steering wheel or pedals.

It’s called Mind Sense, and it can detect which frequency of brainwaves emanating from the driver’s head are most dominant, thus gleaning insight into their state of mind. If the system detects that the driver is tired or distracted, a warning signal will be issued, such as with an in-dash icon or sounded chime, or through a vibration sent via the steering wheel or pedals. If the driver doesn’t immediately respond with a burst of new brainwave activity, thus indicating an awareness of the detected state, an alternative indicator will be used to make sure the driver is engaged.

While the simplest and most common method of monitoring brainwaves is through sensors attached to the head, the JLR team is investigating alternative approaches using sensors that detect brainwave frequencies through the hands, thus utilizing the steering wheel for mounting points.

The technology was developed by NASA to improve a pilot’s concentration, and is also used by athletes on the US Bobsleigh team. JLR says tests are currently underway, and it expects to employ several leading neuroscientists to assist with the development process.

How are we feeling today?

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If brain scans weren’t enough to spark your futurism sensibilities, JLR also proposes using medical-grade sensors implanted in the seat back to detect vibrations caused by a driver’s heartbeat and breathing rate. The intention is to monitor for things like the on-set of illness, but also the driver’s stress levels. If the system detects a high level of stress, it will adjust certain parameters in response, including in-cabin lighting, audio settings, and climate control. The system is currently being tested in a Jaguar XJ.

“As we develop more autonomous driving technologies, there will be instances when the autonomous car needs to hand control back to the driver,” said Dr. Epple. “To do this safely the car will need to know if the driver is alert and well enough to take over. So our research team is looking at the potential for a range of driver monitoring technologies to give the car enough information to support this decision. If the car detects severe health issues, or simply how alert the driver is, then the car could take steps to ensure the driver is focused enough on the driving task to take over.”

Psychic Infotainment and Sci-Fi Control

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Of course, one of the biggest issues these days is distracted driving, and JLR plans to address this with tech that will reduce the time a driver takes his eyes off the road and his hands off the wheel.

Using cameras placed throughout the cabin, JLR hopes to develop a predictive infotainment system that can calculate which buttons a driver intends on selecting through his mid-air gestures. In trials, JLR says the system can decrease selection time by up to 22 percent.

What’s more, the automaker will look into the use of ultrasonic technology to produce a “tap” or “tingling” sensation in the driver’s fingertips when performing the mid-air gestures, providing a haptic response without requiring the driver to actually physically touch the infotainment screen or controls.

Talking Pedals

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Further feedback (such as for the Mind Sense system) will be provided through vibrations or pulses sent through the pedals and into the driver’s foot, alerting him of notifications when necessary.

“To avoid saturating the driver with more visuals and sounds, which could overload and distract them, we are exploring other ways for the car to communicate with the driver. With our haptic pedals research we are investigating non-visual ways to communicate which would enable the driver to make smarter and faster decisions and reduce the potential for accidents,” says Dr. Epple.

Furthermore, the system could be used to increase pedal resistance if the driver exceeds posted speed limits, or to prevent a rear-end collision when stuck in stop-and-go traffic.

The Future Is Now

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All told, the systems JLR wants to develop look pretty wild. However, they fall in line with other forward-looking tech the company has proposed in the past. For example, late last year we saw JLR introduce its Transparent Bonnet, which used cameras mounted to an SUV’s exterior to project the terrain underneath the hood onto the windscreen, a particularly useful feature for off-roading. Or there’s JLR’s 360 Virtual Urban Windscreen, which would eliminate blind spots via screen surfaces in the A- and B-pillars that display the surroundings behind, much like the Transparent Bonnet. The 360 Virtual Urban Windscreen would also highlight hazards like pedestrians crossing the road and provide a “ghost car” to follow for navigation purposes.

Clearly, JLR is developing all this new stuff with one eye towards full autonomy sometime in the future.

Both technologies are examples of augmented reality.

Clearly, JLR is developing all this new stuff with one eye towards full autonomy sometime in the future. According to JLR’s vision, the car will be making the majority of the decisions, determining whether or not to relinquish control based on readings of the occupant’s biological indicators.

It’s also vaguely reminiscent of the NHTSA’s proposed Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety. Using breathalyzers mounted in the dash and driver’s side door, plus near-infrared spectroscopy in the steering wheel and gearshift, DADSS would be able to detect blood alcohol concentration and prevent the car from moving if it was above the 0.08 legal limit.

Now, I’m all for keeping drunk and fatigued drivers off the road, but am I the only one who thinks all this new technology is a bit too Orwellian?

Now, I’m all for keeping drunk and fatigued drivers off the road, but am I the only one who thinks all this new technology is a bit too Orwellian?

Regardless of where you stand when it comes to letting your car decide whether or not you’re fit to drive, there are always potential hazards associated with the proliferation of new technology, even those created with the intention of making things safer. I recently posted an article on the issue, highlighting things like Acura’s recent recall of nearly 50,000 MDX SUVs and RLX sedans as evidence of when autonomous features go bad.

The recall concerns Acura’s autonomous braking system, which, when working properly, will automatically slow the vehicle when it detects an imminent front-end collision. However, the system can potentially malfunction and apply the brakes without the requisite danger, potentially causing a rear-end collision in the process.

My point is that while JLR’s slew of new tech is well intentioned, nothing is infallible. When (or rather if) it makes it to market, I think problems will be inevitable, be they minor or major.

There’s another issue here as well. If technologies like JLR’s 360 Virtual Urban Windscreen become commonplace, will drivers become too reliant on them?

Here’s one scenario: a pedestrian detection system fails to recognize a person crossing the street, and the driver, expecting a bright red halo around all potential hazards, fails to see him as well.

I’m not saying overreliance is a reason not to develop tech like this, but rather want to raise it as something to consider.

Autonomous vehicles are coming, that much is certain. How we’ll get to that future from here remains to be seen.

Press Release

Jaguar Land Rover has revealed a range of new road safety technology research projects that are being developed to reduce the number of accidents caused by drivers who are stressed, distracted and not concentrating on the road ahead.

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The Jaguar Land Rover ‘Sixth Sense’ research projects utilises advanced technology, from sports, medicine and aerospace, to monitor the driver’s heart rate, respiration and levels of brain activity to identify driver stress, fatigue and lack of concentration. The UK-based team is also looking at innovations that would reduce the amount of time the driver’s eyes are off the road whilst driving, and how to communicate with the driver via pulses and vibrations through the accelerator pedal.

Dr Wolfgang Epple, Jaguar Land Rover Director of Research and Technology, said: “We believe some of the technologies currently being used in aerospace and medicine could help improve road safety and enhance the driving experience. The car is becoming more intelligent and more able to utilise cutting-edge sensors. These research projects are investigating how we could exploit this for the benefit of our customers and other road users.

“One key piece of new research is to see how we could measure brainwaves to monitor if the driver is alert and concentrating on driving. Even if the eyes are on the road, a lack of concentration or a daydream will mean the driver isn’t paying attention to the driving task. They may miss a warning icon or sound, or be less aware of other road users so we are looking at how we could identify this and prevent it causing an accident.”

MIND SENSE

The basis of Jaguar Land Rover’s Mind Sense research is to see if a car could effectively read the brainwaves that indicate a driver is beginning to daydream, or feeling sleepy, whilst driving.

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The human brain continually generates four or more distinct brainwaves at different frequencies. By continually monitoring which type of brainwave is dominant, an on-board computer could potentially assess whether a driver is focused, daydreaming, sleepy, or distracted.

“If brain activity indicates a daydream or poor concentration, then the steering wheel or pedals could vibrate to raise the driver’s awareness and re-engage them with driving,” added Dr Epple. “If Mind Sense does not detect a surge in brain activity following the car displaying a warning icon or sound, then it could display it again, or communicate with the driver in a different way, to ensure the driver is made aware of a potential hazard.”

The most common method for monitoring brainwaves is close to the source using sensors attached to a headband, something that would be impractical in a vehicle. Jaguar Land Rover is investigating a method already used by NASA to develop a pilot’s concentration skills and also by the US bobsleigh team to enhance concentration and focus.

This detects brainwaves through the hands via sensors embedded in the steering wheel. Because the sensing is taking place further away from the driver’s head, software is used to amplify the signal and filter out the pure brainwave from any background ‘noise’. Jaguar Land Rover is currently conducting user trials to collect more information on the different brainwaves identified through the steering wheel sensors and will involve leading neuroscientists in the project to verify the results.

DRIVER WELLNESS MONITORING

Jaguar Land Rover is assessing how a vehicle could monitor the well-being of the driver using a medical-grade sensor embedded in the seat of a Jaguar XJ. The sensor, which was originally developed for use in hospitals, has been adapted for in-car use and detects vibrations from the driver’s heart beat and breathing.

“As we develop more autonomous driving technologies, there will be instances when the autonomous car needs to hand control back to the driver,” added Dr Epple. “To do this safely the car will need to know if the driver is alert and well enough to take over. So our research team is looking at the potential for a range of driver monitoring technologies to give the car enough information to support this decision. If the car detects severe health issues, or simply how alert the driver is, then the car could take steps to ensure the driver is focussed enough on the driving task to take over.”

Monitoring the physical health of the driver could not only detect the onset of sudden and serious illness that may incapacitate the driver, but also allow the car to monitor driver stress levels. This would then allow the car to help reduce stress, for example by changing mood lighting, audio settings and climate control.

PREDICTIVE INFOTAINMENT SCREEN WITH MID-AIR TOUCH

Jaguar Land Rover is working on new technologies that increase the speed and efficiency of the interaction between the driver and the infotainment screen. The aim is to reduce driver distraction by minimising the amount of time the driver’s eyes are on the screen.

Dr Epple: “The driver will instinctively look at the infotainment screen or dashboard when pressing buttons to select navigation, music or the telephone. It’s intuitive. So our research is looking at how we could take a current infotainment screen and increase the speed and efficiency of this interaction to minimise the time the driver’s eyes are away from the road and their hand is off the steering wheel.”

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Our Predictive Infotainment Screen prototype uses cameras embedded in the car to track the driver’s hand movements and this enables the system to predict which button the driver intends to press. This allows successful button selection to take place in mid-air, which means users wouldn’t have to touch the screen itself. In user trials this increases the speed of successful button selection by 22 per cent and therefore reduces the amount of time the driver is looking at the screen with their eyes off the road.

The system could also use mid-air touch to provide the driver with a sensation, otherwise known as haptic feedback, that their button selection has been successful. Mid-air touch uses ultrasonics to create a touch sensation in mid-air without the skin needing to be in contact with any surface. The sensations could include a ‘tap’ on your finger or a ‘tingling’ on your fingertips. As touch provides an immediate response to the brain, there will be no need for the driver to glance at the screen for visual confirmation which would help keep their gaze on the road ahead.

HAPTIC ACCELERATOR PEDAL

Haptics could also be used to communicate with the driver through the accelerator pedal to increase the speed of response and to ensure the correct action is taken.

To create these sensations in the accelerator pedal, an actuator sits at the top of the pedal arm and allows for vibrations or pulses to be passed through to the foot of the driver. The technology also uses a torque motor which can create resistance in the pedal feel.

This resistance could be used to notify the driver that they are pushing the accelerator through a speed limit. Alternatively, if you were crawling along in traffic a timely warning through the accelerator could prevent you bumping into the car in front.

Dr Epple added: “To avoid saturating the driver with more visuals and sounds, which could overload and distract them, we are exploring other ways for the car to communicate with the driver. With our haptic pedals researchwe are investigating non-visual ways to communicate which would enable the driver to make smarter and faster decisions and reduce the potential for accidents.”

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