An alarming spike in traffic deaths on U.S. roads has been blamed on app-addled drivers, and computer vision firms say they have a remedy: They’ll save us from ourselves by assessing our alertness, mostly by figuring out which way we’re looking.
To stand out from the herd, Eyesight Technologies, of Herzilya, Israel, is touting its product as doing that and more besides.
“We don’t just look at the driver’s gaze, but also at his gestures,” says Iain Levy, head of the decade-old embedded vision company’s new automotive division.
“Voices may differ between users and accents,” he adds, “but gesture is very natural. And as we move to higher levels of vehicle autonomy, gestures become even more interesting‚ as you have time to do more things than just drive the car.” Even so, the company is collaborating with a voice-recognition firm in order to allow oral communication as well.
The only hardware requirements are a camera and an infrared lamp. That way, no matter how bright it may be outside, the system can still track the driver’s eyelids, his iris, and the tilting of his head.
Here’s how the various functions might work together:
The software—based on deep neural networks—estimates the driver’s age and gender, the better to position the seat, air conditioner, and rear-view mirror. And, with a wide field-of-view camera to scan the entire cabin, the system could even make sure that no child gets inadvertently left behind.
Because safety alone may be a hard sell, particularly for a feature that smacks of Big Brother, the company is selling convenience also. For instance, drivers can give a thumbs-up to “like” a roadside attraction or to control the phone.
Such manipulations were the company’s original focus in the apps it designed for smart phones and smart homes. Its product Singlecue lets you control household appliances by waving a finger in the air. Eyesight Technologies is also working on a robotics home-care system for elderly people. It’s conducting that research together with Kuang-Chi, a technology conglomerate in Shenzhen, China that recently invested US $20 million in the Israeli company.
Philip E. Ross is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. His interests include transportation, energy storage, AI, and the economic aspects of technology. He has a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University and another, in journalism, from the University of Michigan.