Why Carmakers Want to Monitor Drivers

March 10, 2016 // By Junko Yoshida
In the name of safety, carmakers and drivers alike appear steadfastly embracing technologies designed to monitor the driver (and passengers) inside the private space of a vehicle. This trend, in turn, is inspiring consumer tech suppliers to target the automotive segment and promote their proprietary imaging/vision technologies.

Harman International Industries (Stamford, Conn.), for example, was at the Geneva International Motor Show last week to demonstrate its own “eye and pupil tracking” technology. The company’s in-cabin camera “continually captures the driver’s pupil dilation, and a proprietary software algorithm analyzes the pupil reflex using advanced filtering and signal processing,” according to Harman.


FotoNation (San Jose), an imaging algorithm specialist for smartphones, came to the Mobile World Congress last month and talked about its own driver monitoring system – which, for change, doesn’t use eye-gazing technology. Youssef Benmokhtar, senior director of marketing and business development at FotoNation, told EE Times, “At FotoNation, we see automotive as the next opportunity for our growth.”


Other technology companies moving into the driver monitoring market include Smart Eye (Gothenburg, Sweden), whose algorithms search for both the iris and pupil, and Tobii Tech (Stockholm, Sweden), designer of an eye-tracking system composed of sensors and algorithms.


Level 3 Vehicle Automation

So, what’s driving the auto industry to monitor drivers?


Roger Lanctot, associate director of automotive practice at Strategy Analytics, said that it’s “Level 3 autonomous driving.”


The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines vehicle automation in five different levels. Level 3 implies “Limited Self-Driving Automation.”


Under Level 3, Lanctot said, “there is an implied need to monitor the driver to ensure he or she is available to/capable of taking control of the car as it transitions from automated driving back to being driven.”



Jeremy Carlson, senior analyst, automotive technology at IHS Automotive, believes that automakers need this step before they advance their vehicles’ functions from ADAS to automation and ultimately autonomy.


Carlson said, “We know very little about the driver since the only contact points we have today are the steering wheel, pedals and transmission, with only the first two being relatively ‘constant’ points of feedback.”


Carlson added, “It is critical