Don't mean to bore you, but a yawn detector's in the works

Forget texting and cellphones as driver distractions: fatigue is the real road threat

U.S. and Indian researchers have joined forces to design a computer program that can detect when you're yawning - a potentially life-saving invention for drivers and others on the road.

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While the dangers of driving while distracted by cell phones has been grabbing many a headline of late, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says at least 100,000 road crashes a year are caused by driver fatigue.

A paper (A non-rigid motion estimation algorithm for yawn detection in human drivers) describing the new yawn detector is included in the International Journal of Computational Vision and Robotics. The authors hail from Vanderbilt University in Nashville as well as ITER in Orissa, India and UUT if West Bengal, India.

They describe an in-vehicle camera that uses image-processing software and an algorithm to grab images of a driver's face and take notice of yawning vs. other facial movements such as smiling or singing along to that favorite iPod tune. A warning system can be triggered when yawning frequency indicates fatigue.

Such a system, the researchers say, could be far less expensive and intrusive than a system that involved hooking a driver up to detect such other fatigue indicators as brain waves and heart rate.

Driver safety has become a huge area for research.

For example, a Rutgers University economics professor released studies earlier this year examining the changing role of cell phones and safety, noting that cell phones were initially, back in the 1980s, life takers in that pedestrians and drivers were still getting used to the devices as they smashed into things and each other, according to Rutgers professor Peter Loeb.  As usage increased in the 1990s, cell phones were seen to have a life-saving effect in that they were more frequently available to make life-or-death calls for help. But now, of course, cell phones have become a major driver distraction.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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