By Zeid Nasser on Thursday, September 14, 2017

Texting may seem like a harmless act of communication, but it can put your life and other people's lives at risk when it is done behind the wheel. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report showed that distracted driving claimed 3,477 lives in 2015, with teens being the largest age group reportedly being distracted during the time of fatal accidents. Despite these alarming statistics, the establishments of new laws, and efforts by the police and other organizations, many continue to practice the dangerous habit. Fortunately, researchers from the University of Waterloo think that they may be able to solve the problem with the use of cameras and artificial intelligence.


Introducing the Prototype
A complete prototype, including both hardware and software, has already been designed, tested, and implemented using the most advanced tools of computer vision and deep learning AI, revealed Fakhri Karray, an engineering professor at Waterloo. This AI-based system functions to detect distracted driving and alert a driver in real time of the potential danger of certain actions, such as texting, talking on the phone, drinking, reaching for objects at the sides or back of the seat, and operating devices on the dashboard. The technology is a part of a broader project for the development of driver behavior recognition and action prediction for designing next generation Advanced Drivers Assisting Systems. It is expected to influence the designing of self-driving vehicles, particularly level three or four self-driving vehicles.


How Does It Work
A smart camera is set up to detect hand movements that deviate from the normal behavior of a driver. Then, the system will classify the movements according to their potential threat levels. Additionally, it takes into account the duration of the actions and the presence and positions of surrounding vehicles. For instance, text messaging while driving on a busy highway will be ranked significantly higher in terms of potential threat than, say, turning the air-conditioner on while driving on a quiet country road. Following detection of distracted driving, protective measures will be triggered, which can range from providing warnings about bad driving behavior to taking control of the vehicle temporarily if self-driving capability is available.


With distracted driving being such a menace on the road, this new technology can be a major benefit or even a lifesaver for teen drivers as well as other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.