Hong Kong university develops smartphone-based drowsy-driving detection system


To reduce accidents caused by fatigued driving, researchers at the Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) have developed a system that detects drowsy drivers and alerts them using a generic smartphone.

Developed by computer science professor, Cheung Yiu-ming and his team, the system recently won two top prizes at the 45th International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva, and research team has already submitted a US patent application for the technology system.

The new approach adopts a smartphone’s real-time video to track and analyze the facial features of a driver, in particular the changes in their eyelids and head position, which are prominent fatigue symptoms. With this system pre-installed in a generic smartphone, a driver just has to put it near the steering wheel with the front camera facing them in their normal driving position.

When the camera captures facial features, such as drooping eyelids, drowsiness or even nodding off, an alarm is automatically set off. To ensure that the driver is awakened, the driver has to turn off the alarm either by voice or by hand. The method requires only a normal smartphone without any additional devices or sensors. It is cost-effective, simple to operate, portable, detects accurately, highly reliable, and supports online system updates. As the system can activate the rear camera of the smartphone, it can also be used as a normal driving recording system, currently popular with drivers.

Fatigue-driving detection systems are currently installed only in a few luxury models offered by car manufacturers. These systems require additional devices and sensors installed in the vehicle, making them non-portable, expensive, and difficult to fit system updates, so tend not to be beneficial to the majority of general drivers. Professor Cheung says there is no similar product currently available on the market, making it potentially applicable to act as a driver assistance system to enhance road safety, as well as appealing to the consumer market.

“The results of fatigue driving should not be underestimated. According to US government statistics, fatigue driving accounts for 31% of road accidents involving heavy vehicles in the USA. An investigation in the USA also found that economic losses caused by fatigue driving totaled US$3bn per year,” noted Cheung.

“Our new system is suitable for all drivers, but especially for professional drivers and machinery workers who have long working hours. The system may also interest corporations with a vehicle fleet, or insurance companies.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).