Japanese car company developing a car with built-in sensors to detect drunkenness of driver, locking ignition if needed. OPPAMA, Japan (Reuters) --
A new concept car with breathalyzer-like detection systems may provide even greater traction for Japanese efforts to keep impaired drivers off the road.
Nissan's alcohol-detection sensors check odor, sweat and driver awareness, issuing a voice alert from the navigation system and locking up the ignition if necessary.
Odor sensors on the driver and passenger seats read alcohol levels, while a detector in the gear-shift knob measures the perspiration of the driver's palm when starting the car.
Other carmakers with detection systems include Sweden's Volvo , which has developed technology in which drivers blow into a measuring unit in the seat belt before an engine can start.
But Nissan's car includes a mounted camera that monitors alertness by eye scan, ringing bells and issuing a voice message in Japanese or English if a driver should pull over and rest.
The car technology is still in development, but general manager Kazuhiro Doi says the combination of detection systems will ultimately keep an eye on who's behind the wheel.
"We've placed odor detectors and a sweat sensor on the gear shift, but for example if the gear-shift sensor was bypassed by a passenger using it instead of the driver, the facial recognition system would be used," said Doi.
Also keeping a short leash on drivers, car seat belts tighten if drowsiness is detected, while an on-road monitor checks if a car is keeping its lane properly.
Japan's No. 3 carmaker, which competes with Toyota and Honda, has no specific timetable for marketing, but aims to yoke all technology to cut the number of fatalities involving its vehicles to half 1995 levels by 2015.
Nissan's Doi says they still have to distill exactly what impairment means: "If you drink one beer, it's going to register, so we need to study what's the appropriate level for the system to activate."
Odor Sensors placed throughout the car detect the presence of alcohol and a facial monitoring system can recognize drowsy and drunken behavior.
Shift Knob Sensor:
1) A hi-sensitivity alcohol odor sensor is built into the transmission shift knob, which is able to detect the presence of alcohol in the perspiration of the driver's palm as he or she attempts to start driving. When the alcohol-level detected is above the pre-determined threshold, the system automatically locks the transmission, immobilizing the car. A "drunk-driving" voice alert is also issued via the car navigation system.
Passenger Seat Sensor:
2) Additional alcohol odor sensors are also incorporated into the driver's and passenger seats to detect the presence of alcohol in the air inside the vehicle cabin. When alcohol is detected, the system issues both a voice alert and a message alert on the navigation system monitor.
Facial Monitoring System:
A camera is mounted on the instrument cluster facing the driver to monitor the driver's face:
The system is calibrated to monitor the driver's state of consciousness through their eyes. When the system detects signs of drowsiness, a voice and message alert is triggered via the navigation system. Additionally, a seat-belt mechanism is activated, which tightens around the driver to gain his or her immediate attention.
By constantly monitoring the operational behavior of the vehicle (e.g. sensing if the vehicle is drifting out of its driving lane), the system can identify signs of inattentiveness or distraction in the driver. When the system detects such behavior, voice and message alerts are issued via the navigation system. The seat-belt alert mechanism is also activated, tightening around the driver to gain immediate attention.
This concept car was developed as an exploratory platform to showcase breakthrough technologies that could potentially be applied in future production cars, part of an ongoing program from Nissan contributing towards preventing drunk-driving.
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Nissan has already launched and is developing several initiatives to help prevent drunk-driving. In June, the company introduced the "drunk-driving" message alert on its navigation system. In July, Nissan also began testing of a new on-board breathalyzer system in cooperation with several local government authorities in Japan, where an interlock mechanism will immobilize the vehicle if the driver's breath indicates the presence of alcohol above a specified level.
Nissan is taking a holistic approach towards safety that extends beyond the technology built into its vehicles. To achieve a "safe driving environment," Nissan has embarked on the Intelligent Transport System Project (ITS) in Kanagawa Prefecture - aimed at helping to reduce road accidents via the analysis of traffic data collected from on-the-road vehicles and traffic beacons. In Japan, the company's safety vision is to halve the number of traffic fatalities or serious injuries involving Nissan vehicles by 2015 compared with the level in 1995.
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