Canberran KEN KROEGER is overseeing a revolution in car-safety technology.
Imagine a world in which a car could detect in real time when its driver becomes weary or distracted. Well, that dream is edging closer to reality, thanks to eye-tracking technology developed by Canberra-based company Seeing Machines.
Autonomous features such as anti-lock brakes and cruise control have been around since the 1970s but eye-tracking technology signals a big leap forward in safety technology. Seeing Machines’ technology provides in-cabin alerts for drivers the instant they feel drowsy or stop paying enough attention to vehicle operation.
Cameras look for indicators such as eyelid closure, pupil diameter and the direction of a driver’s gaze. If these signs of fatigue are detected, the driver’s seat vibrates and an alarm sounds to attract their attention.
The idea for Seeing Machines was sparked in a robotics lab at the Australian National University in 1999 when four researchers (Timothy Edwards, Alex Zelinsky, Jochen Heinzmann and Sebastian Rougeaux) were trying to teach robots how to see. The company was founded in 2000 to commercialise the technology and was soon working with the mining sector to deliver their Driver Safety System (DMS) technology. In a little over three years, Seeing Machines had signed a deal with Caterpillar to supply and sell its technology for the company’s approximately 40,000 mining trucks around the world.
Today, Seeing Machines is listed on the London’s Alternative Investment Market and has a turnover in excess of $23 million. Last year, the company received the Digital Technologies Award at the Chief Minister’s ACT Export Awards and its eye-tracking technology is now used in aviation, rail and commercial trucking industries. The first semi-autonomous vehicle with integrated DMS is set to be launched later this year.
“As vehicles start to develop higher levels of automation, it becomes more important for them to also have a higher level of understanding of the operator and of their ability to step in when something goes wrong within or outside of the vehicle,” explains Ken Kroeger, CEO of Seeing Machines. “This is the piece that we provide.”
A report from McKinsey & Company predicts autonomous cars will gain mass adoption by around 2040 and have the potential to reduce traffic accidents by up to 90 per cent. Companies such as Google, Audi and Toyota have driverless cars in the testing stage and Australia’s first autonomous bus was trialled in Perth last September.
“The world and the technology investment markets are experiencing a high level of interest in the commercialisation of drones, autonomous cars and other robotics applications,” Kroeger says. “Given the role that artificial intelligence and robotics are beginning to play in shaping our future world, it’s not hard to see the range of possibilities that lie ahead for our human behaviour-sensing technologies.”