Special Coverage

SAE World Congress

DETROIT – Auto makers and suppliers have been showing off devices aimed at waking up sleepy or distracted drivers for years at the SAE World Congress here, but while most of us apparently were napping, they have moved from concept to reality.

From mere lane-departure warning systems that beep when a driver drifts out of his lane to camera-based systems that use sophisticated algorithms to determine when a driver is too distracted or tired, Aisin World Corp., Denso Corp. and other suppliers are offering such systems on a growing number of production vehicles.

At the SAE World Congress here, Aisin shows what it calls a “driver monitoring system” that uses sophisticated facial recognition software to warn the driver through audible alerts when his face is turned away from the road too long or when his eyelids are becoming too heavy.

The system uses a camera and infrared light-emitting diodes mounted on the vehicle’s instrument panel, coupled with the facial-recognition system, to determine where the driver is looking and monitor eyelid positions. The LED illuminates the driver’s face for the camera in low-light conditions. Don Whitsitt, president-Aisin World Corp. of America, says the system already is available in Japan on several upscale Toyota models. The system already is available in the U.S. on the Lexus LS 600h L hybrid-electric sedan.

A similar system developed by Denso is offered on some versions of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Drivers can be alerted in numerous ways, Whitsitt says, from various audio alerts to a vibrating steering wheel to other means, all of which is up to the auto maker.

The technology also can be used in conjunction with various “pre-crash” systems that deploy seatbelt tensioners and airbags.

“We don’t pick what it does, “ Whitsitt says. “That’s up to the manufacturer.”