HomeTechnologyNewsWhat are "driver monitoring systems" in cars?

What are “driver monitoring systems” in cars?

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Driver monitoring systems are an advanced safety feature that can track your eyes, check if you’re drowsy or paying attention, and alert drivers to keep their eyes on the road.

More vehicles are starting to come with a Driver Monitoring System (DMS) to keep drivers on their toes instead of falling asleep or being distracted by a smartphone. So what is this system and how does it work?

These days, drivers are more distracted than ever. We have smartphones, huge infotainment screens, and a false sense of security due to lane assist, adaptive cruise control, and hands-free driving. When using these features, drivers may not keep their eyes on the road as often, and no matter how much coffee you drink, staying awake, alert, and paying attention can be difficult.

That’s why we’re starting to see a big shift toward driver monitoring systems:sometimes called Driver Condition Sensing Systems (DSS), which involve more than just touching the steering wheel occasionally. In fact, DMS systems can track your eyelids, alert drowsy drivers, and could make the road a safer place.

What is a Driver Monitoring System?

Polestar 3 car interior and steering wheel.
Polar Star

You’ll start hearing more about driver monitoring systems (DMS) in 2023 and beyond, so what exactly is it? It’s a suite of advanced security features inside a vehicle that, depending on model and system, can track your eyes, eyelids (for drowsiness), and head movements, among other things.

DMS systems do more than monitor the driver to make sure someone is paying attention. If you are not awake or alert, it will notify you using many different methods.

While this technology is still relatively new, we are starting to see it emerge in more vehicles, especially electric cars. For example, Polestar will introduce its cutting-edge DMS system on the Polestar 3 electric SUV at CES in January 2023.

These monitoring systems are readily available in the commercial and fleet markets, but are gaining ground among auto manufacturers and regulatory agencies alike for consumers. It’s a mandate for future vehicles in Europe, and US senators have new legislation in the works. DMS systems are critical to the advancement of self-driving and autonomous driving technology.

How does it work?

Illustration of a sleeping conductor.
metamorworks/shutterstock.com

DMS systems typically use a camera or sensor system mounted on the dash or in the rearview mirror to track the driver’s eyes. In addition, monitoring software can instantly issue a warning or haptic vibrations to alert drivers, draw their attention to the road, or warn them to touch the steering wheel.

It’s essentially checking to make sure you’re paying attention; If not, it will catch your attention. Some systems trigger an alert on the gauge cluster, the infotainment screen, or a vibration in the steering wheel. We might see head-up notifications projected onto the windshield or other methods in the future.

We’ve seen this variant with Tesla’s Autopilot and full self-driving software. While using autonomous driving, it will occasionally remind the person behind the wheel to touch the steering wheel and pay attention.

For example, GM’s Super Cruise software on Chevrolet and GM vehicles has an optional DMS system that owners can enable. Once activated, it is a system “that detects the position of the head and eyes, reminding you to pay attention to the road and steer manually when necessary.”

While using Ford’s BlueCruise and hands-free driving, the oval company’s DMS system uses a driver-facing infrared camera on the steering column that monitors the driver’s eyes and gaze. And yes, he can see your eyes through sunglasses. Hands-free driving mode will ensure the driver is awake, alert and looking ahead instead of looking down at a smartphone.

Subaru has similar technology that uses in-vehicle cameras to track drivers. Taking it a step further, Polestar believes its car will offer enhanced safety thanks to its Smart Eye camera technology. The Polestar 3 DMS system features two “closed-circuit cameras that monitor the driver.” These cameras can track the driver’s head, eyelid movements and other distracting signals. The DMS system can activate a warning sound and send a message to the gauge cluster or infotainment screens.

“This technology addresses some of the main reasons behind fatal crashes and can help save lives by prompting the driver to refocus their attention on the road, and can initiate preventative action when they don’t or can’t,” Thomas said. Ingenlath, Polestar. CEO.

While these systems will alert the driver to pay attention and give them the opportunity to do so, the vehicle can issue an emergency stop function if the operator does not respond. It will stop safely and stop the car automatically.

It’s important to note that most driver monitoring systems are only activated during hands-free driving modes or other autonomous driving features that are slowly becoming mainstream. That said, the idea behind it could also be great for regular driving, ensuring no one falls asleep at the wheel.

More than just one hand on the wheel

GM steering wheel monitoring system.
GM

In many systems today, distracted drivers can quickly put a hand on the wheel and tell the vehicle they are paying attention. Actually, his eyes could be elsewhere. You shouldn’t be able to enable driver assistance software if you’re not paying attention. We’ve seen drivers fool many of these systems, so facial recognition and AI aim to improve them.

It’s too easy to just put one hand on the wheel, which is why these systems are evolving and will have other methods to ensure the roads are as safe as possible. The new systems will go beyond just checking the steering wheel to make sure someone is actually paying attention.

Many current and future DMS systems scan and track eye movements, and that’s the next evolution in keeping roads safe. This is not just to check for drowsy drivers, but to make sure the driver is looking ahead and paying attention to the road.

Future DMS systems and autonomous driving

Car sensors that check for collisions around you.
temp-64GTX/Shutterstock.com

While the main focus of driver monitoring systems is to ensure people are safe on the road, that’s just the beginning. We are starting to see advanced facial recognition and AI technology go one step further.

In addition to making sure you’re paying attention to the road, some DMS systems can recognize individual drivers and tailor the experience for that user. For example, your vehicle could one day scan your face and instantly adjust the seat, climate controls, infotainment preferences, side mirrors, and more. Then, as you drive, it will make sure you’re awake and alert, keeping you and everyone else on the road comfortable yet safe.

We’ve seen facial recognition on some Subaru models, and it also comes with the new Polestar 3 electric SUV. On the Subaru Legacy and Outback with “DriverFocus,” if a driver takes their eyes off the road for more than three seconds, the system kicks in. in an “elevated state of sensitivity”. This uses facial recognition and artificial intelligence to help ensure the car is ready to correct itself if necessary to maintain safety.

For now, DMS is about keeping us safe on the road, but in the future, it could improve the in-vehicle experience and prevent dangerous accidents from distracted drivers.

So, as mentioned above, advanced driver monitoring systems will play a crucial role in ensuring that autonomous driving systems still have an alert for the driver and are ready to act. Well, until fully autonomous vehicles take over.

Data Collection and Privacy

Man looking at phone while driving.
Nuad/Shutterstock.com Contributor

Privacy is very important with any new technology, especially one that uses facial recognition or eye tracking. Driver monitoring systems should only be able to collect enough data to ensure that the driver’s eyes and attention are on the road, and nothing else.

Again, going back to the upcoming Polestar 3, its DMS system features “two closed-circuit cameras that monitor the driver.” The company made sure to mention that all the data collected by the cameras is in a closed loop and is processed inside the vehicle in real time. None of your data or facial information is recorded or shared with the cloud.

Additionally, Ford and GM stated that their system does not share or transmit in-cabin data or out-of-vehicle video. And while your Tesla has in-cabin cameras that capture video, the driver can choose whether or not that video is sent to Tesla.


To conclude, if driver monitoring systems can prevent accidents, save lives effectively, and do so without violating our privacy, it will be an important technology moving forward. That being said, we are still in the early stages of driver monitoring systems in consumer vehicles, and the technology is likely to improve and evolve over time.

For now, stay awake and alert, pay attention to the road, and perhaps consider a vehicle with DMS technology the next time you shop for a car.

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