Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Techy Tuesday - You Car Will Soon Be Watching You

As self-driving cars approach, one of the hurdles that must be crossed is that under some versions of the concept, the car will hand control back over to the driver.  Sort of a robotic version of, "I don't know.  You take it".

So what if the driver is catching some Zs, or reading a book, or engaged in something else that's distracting?  EE Times reports on one approach: optical recognition of the driver and detecting these things by watching the driver and passengers. 
The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines vehicle automation in five different levels. Level 3 implies “Limited Self-Driving Automation.”

Under Level 3, (Roger) Lanctot said, “there is an implied need to monitor the driver to ensure he or she is available to/capable of taking control of the car as it transitions from automated driving back to being driven.”
So here's a functional reason to monitor the driver's alertness.  But you gotta know it won't stop there.
But beyond safety, and insurance companies with a vested interest in knowing how drivers drive, what can carmakers gain from monitoring drivers?

FotoNation’s Benmokhtar rattled off a few factors motivating carmakers to install a driver monitoring system. They want, for example, to build a car that knows the personal preferences of driver and passengers, so that the car can tailor comfort issues such as seat positions and entertainment content. Auto companies are also eager to design a car for ride-sharing or as a service. In either case, a car, for security reasons, should be able to identify the driver and authorize him or her to drive, while allowing the driver to pre-load choices in navigation and entertainment.
In the last few weeks, I've heard the idea floated around that at some point in the near future, we'll stop buying cars and instead arrange for a car to pick us up by appointment.  Kind of a driverless Uber; you schedule a car and it drives itself to the pickup point.  While I find that hard to imagine, it seems this is the intended market for those features.  After all, if you own the car, the ability to "tailor comfort issues such as seat positions and entertainment content" just doesn't seem that important; the seat will be where you left it.  It doesn't seem that important for a couple that shares a car, but in the "driverless Uber" concept, I can see it being important.  It sounds like the kind of idea they'd push for millennials, who are famous for wanting and having every detail of their lives personalized.  I recall stories that millennials were not buying cars in the numbers their parents and grandparents did, but I also see that's no longer the case. So that's increasingly not the market for this sort of system, either.

A major player in the optical recognition systems market is FotoNation.
But FotoNation believes eye-tracking/eye-gazing technologies come with limitations -- especially related to cost and implementation issues for OEMs and Tier Ones.

FotoNation claims a technology that can do away with high-cost cameras. “We can use a VGA camera – instead of a mega-pixel sensor – to track a driver’s head position/orientation,” which in turn helps determine eye location, said Benmokhtar.

Technically speaking, FotoNation’s system isn’t an eye-tracking system. Rather, it tracks heads. The technology tracks 50 points on the driver’s face, enabling the monitoring system to extrapolate eyebrows and even measure accurately how open or closed an eye is, according to the company.

Combined with other data points such as mouth opening (that indicates a driver is yawning) and head orientation (whether it’s nodding), the system can determine driver drowsiness, for example.
Beyond the simple monitoring of the driver, there's interest in 360 degree vision around the car, for collision avoidance and other situational awareness.  That's harder to disagree with than the car monitoring the driver. 

This monitoring raises lots of troubling questions.  Is there any expectation of privacy?  If you're in your personal car, I would think so, but what about in a driverless car you rent for a commute or trip home from the bars?  If there are other people in the car, do they get monitored as well?  What about the other people in the car's rights to privacy?  Is the data saved?  Is it uploaded to an insecure "cloud" server somewhere?  If it's your personal car, who owns the data?  The car maker, the driver, or someone else?  Does it become admissible in court?  

As I said the other day, it's a brave, new world, isn't it.


  1. Well it only will if; YOU spend YOUR money on THEIR product. Don't like spying. THEN DO NOT BUY THE PRODUCT. If they cannot sell self driving spyware it will go the way of the Chevy Volt and the Tesla "fireball". If you don't like STOP UEING IT! See how simple that was?---Ray

  2. Awhile back I ordered my new Jeep and tried to get it made without the "smart" key. Can't be done they said, like it or not you have to get the anti-theft option. Great! That means I have to carry around this huge key forever and if I make a spare to stick in some hidey spot on the Jeep for that inevitable day when I lose my regular key it will do me no good because it won't start the car. I feel the same way about any car but think about it a Jeep is intended to get you miles and miles from the road. What happens when you lose the key? What a stupid design.

  3. Anon 1005, your experience is like one we had when we got my wife a replacement for her 11 year old Toyota a couple of years ago. You have no choice in buying the keyless entry with the giant mutant key.

    As for Anon 0826's DO NOT BUY THE PRODUCT, my take is that this is going to be Gubmint mandated and phased in over some time period. They'll never outlaw your old car directly, but they'll outlaw you driving it everywhere. First, self-driving, or "improved driving", cars will be required on the interstates (much, much cheaper than building more lanes); then they'll be mandated for busy city streets. It'll be for safety. For the children. They'll probably never get to where they mandate it for country back roads, but you'll never be able to drive your old car to places where the autonomous cars are required. Eventually, you'll be surrounded by people who really won't know how to drive or how to be around cars that don't drive themselves.

    This may take 30 or 40 years, but it sure looks like the path that's coming.

  4. Sorry Greybeard, but you are wrong on this. The government has tried "mandates" before and had it come to nothing because NOBODY SPENT MONEY ON IT. (Remember "smart guns"?) This only works if the public can be coned into putting up the money. (Wasn't there something back in the90's about "eco cars replacing SUV's?) AND : I'll be dead in 40 years so.....Ray

    1. I hope you're right, Ray. I can think of tons of counter examples, but in the end, we'll know at some point, if we live long enough.