According to the National Sleep Foundation's Sleep in America poll, 61% of adult drivers – about 168 million people – say that they have driven their car when they were extremely tired. In fact, 36% - about 103 million people – say this occurs more than once a month. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 105,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year. This results in an estimated 1,555 deaths, 71,200 injuries, and $12.7 billion in monetary losses.

Keeping awake on the road

Wouldn't it be nice if there was a technology that could sense when you were falling asleep behind the wheel and woke you up before anything happened?  The sales staff at Lakeland in Greenville, PA, a factory authorized Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram dealer reminded us that over the years, many companies have sold devices that can help a driver stay awake when driving.  There have been devices that the driver wears that sounds an alarm when their head drops down. These usually fit behind the driver's ear like a hearing aid. The problem is that few people really like to wear them as they feel they "aren't that tired."

There are quite a few apps that are designed to keep drowsy drivers awake.  Some of the names are AntiDrowse, AntiSleepDriver, DriverAlarm, StayAwakePro, CoffeeWake, StayAwakeWhileDriving and DriveAwake.  These apps work in a variety of ways, everything from timers to GPS recognition but all are designed to keep drivers awake.

Advanced technology solutions

One company has a solution to the problem that shows great promise: Harken. Harken is a European technology consortium that has developed a number of very innovative technologies. In particular, they have been working on a sleep monitoring system that uses "smart textiles" (textiles with conductive properties) and a computer that monitor a driver's heart and breathing rates.  If it appears that the driver is nodding off, a wake up alarm is sounded.

How accurate is it? "The rhythm of heart beats, specifically heart rate and heart rate variability, are good indicators of concentration and wakefulness," states a researcher at Harkin.  Basically, by measuring these parameters, the engineers at Harken have developed an algorithm that senses when a driver is getting sleepy. Press Releases from Harkin state that the system has been privately tested with great results and is moving into real world testing.

Licensing Potential

If this technology works as well as expected, then Harkin would likely license it to the world's automobile manufacturers.  Assuming that the costs are reasonable, it would be surprising if any manufacturer wouldn't be interested.  A device like this is a safety feature that is just as effective as any other and would be a strong selling point.

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