A brain scientist has teamed up with electronics wizards to design a system for giving dozy drivers a wake-up call.
The idea is to monitor telltale brainwaves for signs of sleepiness and inattention and then alert a flagging driver.
“The system could turn on the radio or spray water on the driver’s face – who knows,” joked Sara Lal, a neuroscientist with the University of Technology, Sydney.
But preventing road and rail accidents is serious business, said Dr Lal, noting that aviation, mining and other 24-hour-a-day industries could also be made safer by a simple method of helping people stay alert.
Along with colleagues at Melbourne University and Sydney-based rail safety firm Integrated Vigilance Systems, Dr Lal has just received more than $500,000 to refine the approach.
Their work with the electrical activity of the brain fits neatly with technology pioneered at the Australian National University in Canberra.
That prototype system is based on computerised face recognition, which tracks and monitors drivers, using dashboard cameras.
Dr Lal has shown that signs of fatigue and inattention can be picked up by measuring brainwaves.
“With inattention there are increases in slow wave activity,” said Dr Lal, referring to types of electrical activity called delta and theta waves.
“For fatigue, we see a dramatic increase in slow wave activity, a three to four-times increase,” she said.
The team is developing wireless electrodes that can detect a change in brainwaves, without a cumbersome laboratory-style headband or skull cap.
They are collaborating with a second team in Europe that is investigating non-sticky disposable electrodes.