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CarSafe app brings lane departure and collision warning to older cars

Active safety systems such as lane-departure warning or fatigue alert are usually found on fancy, high end cars, but if your vehicle is lacking in such features then don’t fret – there may soon be an app for that.

A new phone app could warn drivers when they're tired or drifting out of lane.
A new phone app could warn drivers when they’re tired or drifting out of lane.

The CarSafe app, designed by Andrew Campbell and colleagues at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, keeps an eye on the road ahead and what’s going on in the cabin using the main and user-facing cameras on a smartphone – in this case, a Galaxy Nexus.

The main camera looks through the windscreen, keeping tabs on whether you are a safe distance from the car in front and whether you’re inside your lane. Meanwhile, the user-facing camera watches the driver, tracking your head pose, gaze direction and even your blink rate.

If CarSafe thinks you’re drowsy, something given away by the lack of blinking, or you’re too close to the car in front, or you’re drifting out of lane it will warn you with bleeps and display an image of a coffee cup – a hint you should pull over and either hit the caffeine or sleep.

Although the average smartphone is a powerful gadget, current technology means the app isn’t as good as it could be. The Galaxy Nexus is unable to process two camera streams simultaneously, so Campbell and his team had to program the phone to continuously swap between the front and rear cameras. This limitation means the app can only analyse you and the road at a rate of eight frames-per-second (fps), making it less effective at speed.

“The next generation of phones will allow software to access both cameras simultaneously, removing that bottleneck. And with the advent of quad core and 16 core phones in the future I would expect 20 to 30 fps on each camera,” he explained in the New Scientist.

So far, Campbell says tests using a Subaru Outback, Ford Focus, a Hyundai sedan and a Toyota pick-up have proved positive and now the plan is to move onto more “realistic” road-based scenarios in the near future to see how well CarSafe really works.

Not everyone is quite so convinced by the app. The UK’s head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in Birmingham, Kevin Clinton, was critical of the usefulness. “We think it’s a little bit late by the time an app tells you you’re tired,” he countered.

The app’s makers say CarSafe could hit the Android Market early next year, joining its other app, WalkSafe. We could also see the technology creep into systems used by insurers that track how you drive.

Source: The New Scientist

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