BRIMLEY, MI – Modern premium cars come with outside-aimed detection cameras to help prevent front-end collisions, back-over accidents and the like.

But German auto supplier Continental is preparing to go to market with advanced- safety equipment that includes interior cameras pointed at the driver. The goal: to detect distraction, inattentiveness and drowsiness.

If such lapses occur, the car would warn the driver and, if that doesn’t work, take emergency braking and maneuvering actions on its own. 

Continental demonstrates interior-camera systems as well as five other pre-production safety technologies during a media preview at its 540-acre (219-ha) test track in Michigan’s remote Upper Peninsula.

It’s often a tough sell for suppliers to convince cost-conscious automakers of the need for advanced-safety equipment. The prototype camera systems present a new set of challenges extending to potential end-user push-back. Could consumers perceive the cameras as surveillance devices keeping watch on them?

“We’ve heard that many times,” says Jeremy McClain, Continental’s engineering manager-Advanced Technology Systems & Technology, Chassis & Safety Div.

On the face of it, some drivers might bridle at the idea of cameras pointed their way, he says. “We have to show the benefit.”

Adds Steffen Linkenbach, who heads a Continental North American systems and technology business unit: “It’s a question of getting more than you are giving.”

At the test facility, engineers try to demonstrate drivers would get life-saving equipment that looks out for them in the course of looking at them.

Engineers also note the unobtrusive positioning of the cameras; they’re virtually hidden to the naked eye. “The point of technology like this is that you are not supposed to know about it unless you need it,” says Ibro Muharemovic, a lead engineer. “It’s like airbags. How often do you think about those under normal circumstances?”