Driver Monitoring System 101

People don’t like to face an unexpected situation, because it could make them feel embarrassed, put them in danger, or take away their ability to properly react. That is why we try to manage and control the situation as much as possible, so that we can predict and be prepared for what may come next. And often, this includes analyzing what happened already or observing what is happening now.

When it comes to safety on the road, given that about 70% of car accidents every year occur due to drowsiness and inattentive driving, drivers’ conditions and behaviors are one of the major factors that should be observed and controlled to avoid misfortunes. For example, if the driver is paying proper attention to a person crossing the street, if the driver is not texting or doing something with the smartphone, and if the driver feels drowsy, controlling those situations that might lead to tragic accidents will help keep everyone on the road safe.

Many national authorities around the world have been introducing and strengthening regulations against those accidents, but it is not sufficient and is rather a punishment after the fact, not a precaution. To achieve the desired result, the efforts should be joined with some preventive measures, and a good example is a driver monitoring system (DMS) that monitors the state of a driver and removes risks in advance.

For that reason, Euro-NCAP announced to make DMS mandatory from 2024, and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended DMS for Level 2+ autonomous driving cars.

What Is Driver Monitoring System

In an ideal world, drivers will and can be fully attentive behind the wheel; but in reality, they are not. They may feel drowsy after having a big dinner or have to answer an urgent call from work or home and, as a result, become distracted and encounter a dangerous situation. That is the time for DMS to do its job: it detects the state of a driver and sets off an alarm to prevent accidents

DMS observes if a driver is paying proper attention to the road while driving. It includes monitoring of the driver’s state detection of usage of the infotainment system, gaze and face tracking to determine drowsiness, etc. Among them, the state of the driver is determined by the movement of the head, blinking, direction of the gaze, and yawning.

There are many ways for driver monitoring, and the most common one so far is detecting all movements of a driver using near-infrared camera and based on those movements determining the distraction or drowsiness of the driver. It can minimize errors under the driving circumstance where the driver moves a lot and is inexpensive even for the aftermarket.

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Why Driver Monitoring System?

DMS is no longer a new technique. Many organizations have recognized the necessity of DMS and made it mandatory, and automotive OEMs and software companies have been introducing a variety of DMS technologies with advanced algorithms. In particular, the major automotive markets, Europe, China, and the US, are on their way to enacting regulations on DMS. In 2019, total 10,170 new vehicles with DMS were manufactured, and Euro NCAP announced its 2025 roadmap.

Aside from the regulations, as the automotive software market grows and customer requirements regarding security and safety get diverse and sophisticated, DMS has grown to one of the core technologies for car safety, and its development and enhancement will be accelerated thanks to AI and deep learning.

Especially for advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous vehicles (AV), DMS is an essential element. The Society of Automotive Engineers defined Level 3 driving automation as conditional automation, and with this level of automation, a driver is allowed to take hands off the wheel but has to gain control back if requested. However, if the driver is not in a state capable of resuming manual driving, the car has to slow down and come to a safe stop. To determine this, the car has to be aware of the driver’s state, making DMS a requisite for an AV platform.

How It Works and What It Can Do?

A DMS tracks changes to the driver’s state, including movements of the head, direction of gaze, position of eyelids, frequency of blinking, duration of eye opening or closing, and yawning, using near-infrared camera. The collected information is converted to the logical hierarchy to determine whether the driver is distracted, paying attention to the road, or closed-eyed. If any dangerous situation is noticed, an alarm sets off for the driver and the safety system so that the driver, or the car system, can take measures in advance to prevent accidents.

Another benefit of DMS is that it enables personalization of the in-car environment, such as seat position, temperature, and entertainment functions, by recognizing the driver. The recognition of the driver can also prevent car theft by allowing operation of the car only for registered drivers. An attempt to operate the car by an unregistered driver is considered a theft, and in that case, the car system raises all the security levels and reports the theft to the police automatically.

Advancement of technologies solves problems that used to be considered difficult to solve. They will continue to do so unless trusted blindly and even do better when desirably combined with the moral thinking of humans. With new paradigms brought by this combination, we can live with less worries about unexpected situations and enjoy better safety and convenience.

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