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The car that reads your face: safer driving for the future


The car that reads your face: safer driving for the future

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Professor Jean-Philippe Thiran at Swiss technology institute EPFL in Lausanne is testing an new emotion detector that could one day help control road rage and wake up drowsy drivers.

Professor Thiran detailed how it works: “Basically we have a camera, a series of lights, and we have a computer analysing the video on real time. The first difficulty is the light conditions. To cope with that we chose an infrared camera, which is sensitive to the infrared and we use infrared lighting, so we get rid of the problem of illumination and we can work day or rnight without any problem.”

The detector is the result of a joint project between EPFL and French car maker PSA Peugeot Citroen. Researchers developed an algorithm that taught the detector to identify emotions in photographs and then tested it on live volunteers. Tests showed 85 percent accuracy in spotting irritation. Drowsiness is identified by monitoring eyelid movement.

Professor Thiran explained: “If the car detects that the driver is tired and getting sleepy, then the car might start playing energetic music or change the light of the dashboard to make it more aggressive. On the contrary, if the driver is stressed then the car should, for instance play calming music.”

Olivier Pajot, the general manager of Stellab, the EPFL-PSA Peugeot Citroen collaboration group, said an emotion detector could bridge the gap between manual and fully automated cars: “One of the intermediate steps is a partially autonomous vehicle. That means that the vehicle will be able to drive by itself but will still need some supervision by the driver.”

The idea of developing gadgets like these is to improve safety and eliminate driver error, which is currently the leading cause of road accidents.

More futuristic transport

European aviation company Airbus says it has conducted test flights of the first ever all-electric aircraft at an airport near Bordeaux in France. The E-Fan was designed by Airbus, which is based in Toulouse. It measures just six metres from nose to tail, but could be a key step towards greener, quieter, cheaper flights in the future.

The plane’s first flight lasted less than 10 minutes, although researchers say it can fly for up to one hour before needing to be recharged.

With a top speed of only 220 km per hour and space for just one pilot and one passenger, the E-Fan is unlikely to replace traditional commercial aircraft just yet, but engineers hope that as the technology develops, larger electric or hybrid aircraft can be built.

Electric planes would be quieter, and maybe cheaper, but for the environment, cleaner planes could make a huge difference.

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