Thanks to new technology being developed by MIT, narcoleptics could someday regain confidence behind the wheel or even potentially have less restrictive license capabilities. MIT, with funding from DARPA and the U.S. Army, created an "intelligent co-pilot for cars" where if one fell asleep at the wheel, it would take over and keep driving until you awoke.
Like many autonomous vehicles already reported on by The Blaze, MIT's technology uses lasers and video cameras to sense "danger" around the car, alerting the system as to when it should take over. MIT PhD student Sterling Anderson, who helped develop the system and has been testing it since September, told MIT's News Office "the real innovation is enabling the car to share [control] with you. If you want to drive, it’ll just … make sure you don’t hit anything."
Here's more from Anderson on the complexity of making a human and technological interface mesh for the common goal of driving safely:
“The problem is, humans don’t think that way,” Anderson says. “When you and I drive, [we don’t] choose just one path and obsessively follow it. Typically you and I see a lane or a parking lot, and we say, ‘Here is the field of safe travel, here’s the entire region of the roadway I can use, and I’m not going to worry about remaining on a specific line, as long as I’m safely on the roadway and I avoid collisions.’”
Anderson and Iagnemma integrated this human perspective into their robotic system. The team came up with an approach to identify safe zones, or “homotopies,” rather than specific paths of travel. Instead of mapping out individual paths along a roadway, the researchers divided a vehicle’s environment into triangles, with certain triangle edges representing an obstacle or a lane’s boundary.
The researchers devised an algorithm that “constrains” obstacle-abutting edges, allowing a driver to navigate across any triangle edge except those that are constrained. If a driver is in danger of crossing a constrained edge — for instance, if he’s fallen asleep at the wheel and is about to run into a barrier or obstacle — the system takes over, steering the car back into the safe zone.
Watch the system in action:
With this technology, Eaton Corp. Intelligent Truck Vehicle Technology Manager Benjamin Saltsman said the concept less costly and closer to actual implementation compared to fully-autonomous vehicles, such as Google's self-driving car.
(Related: 'No Hands': Blind Man Tests Google's Self-Driving Car)
Are there downsides to such a system, aside from equipment malfunctions? Anderson said such technology would not be beneficial to some drivers, especially those learning as they may think they're just good drivers naturally.
“You’d say, ‘Hey, I pulled this off,’ and you wouldn’t know that the car is changing things behind the scenes to make sure the vehicle remains safe, even if your inputs are not," Anderson said to MIT News Office.
He also acknowledged that without negative consequences of poor driving, there may not be any encouragement to learn better skills.