Researchers at Nottingham Trent University are working on a project to develop a car seat which will detect if a driver falls asleep.
Professor Tilak Dias and William Hurley of the University’s Advanced Textile Research Group will be working with the semiconductor company Plessey on a feasibility study to investigate how to integrate an Electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor system directly into the fabric of car seats in an effort to save lives.
The project is being funded by the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board.
With driver fatigue identified as a contributory factor in one in five motorway accidents, the aim of the project is to embed a fabric based sensor system within the seat which can detect the heart signals that indicate a driver is losing alertness.
The data would be used to send a warning to the driver to pull over. Should the warning be ignored, the vehicle could engage systems such as active cruise control or lane departure technology to prevent accidents. The information could also be sent over a wireless network to a control centre to take further action.
Professor Dias said: "Plessey has already demonstrated that cardiac signals can be measured unobtrusively using capacitive sensors mounted within the driver’s seat; the requirement now is to improve the consistency and reliability of the data so that it can be used for the intended purpose.
“This requires a novel approach to the design of the electrodes, and Nottingham Trent University’s knitted conductive textile technology offers the potential to produce robust electrodes that can be easily incorporated into automotive seats."
Steve Cliffe, business development director of Plessey, said: "For the first time it will be possible to reliably and robustly extract electrophysiology signals using Plessey EPIC (Electric Potential Integrated Circuit) sensors in an automotive environment without direct contact with the body."
The Technology Strategy Board has committed £88,000 to the study as part of its £1.1m investment in feasibility studies to help the development of internet sensors which allow all kinds of machines and appliances to communicate and co-ordinate with each other through an information network.