General Motors May Be The First To Offer Cars That Detect Distracted Drivers

Dis­tract­ed dri­ving is a hot top­ic these days. Beyond the usu­al dis­trac­tions of burg­ers, babies, and blush, now we have to deal with smart­phones, info­tain­ment sys­tems, and a host of oth­er bright, shiny things.

Many com­pa­nies and orga­ni­za­tions have tried to put the brakes on dis­tract­ed dri­ving, from app-mak­ers to cell phone mak­ers to gov­ern­ment agen­cies. A few automak­ers have jumped into the fray with ads that encour­age dri­vers to put down their devices, but Gen­er­al Motors may one-up all of them thanks to new in-car tech­nol­o­gy designed to detect dis­tract­ed motorists.

Accord­ing to CNBC, the tech­nol­o­gy will come from an Aus­tralian firm called See­ing Machines. It will take the form of a series of cam­eras paired with facial recog­ni­tion soft­ware — kind of like the soft­ware that Face­book uses to auto-tag your friends in pho­tos, but in this case, it’ll take note of things like the rota­tion of the driver’s head and how often he/she blinks.

That will help the sys­tem deter­mine whether a dri­ver is look­ing at the road, at a cell phone, or even nod­ding off. If the sit­u­a­tion proves dire enough, the sys­tem could the­o­ret­i­cal­ly slow the vehi­cle and force the dri­ver to pull over — not unlike a cer­tain atten­tion-pow­ered car we’ve seen before.

Gen­er­al Motors has con­tract­ed with See­ing Machines to buy up to 500,000 of the cam­era sys­tems over the next three to five years. There’s no word yet on pric­ing or how it might be offered to con­sumers, but giv­en the size of the poten­tial order, we’d assume it will debut as part of a safe­ty pack­age upgrade on select GM mod­els.

The good news is that the See­ing Machines’ sys­tems can do more than just com­bat dis­tract­ed dri­ving (though frankly, that would be plen­ty in our book). They could also be used to deter auto theft by dis­abling vehi­cles if the per­son in the driver’s seat isn’t an autho­rized user. It might also allow dri­vers to acti­vate apps, nav­i­ga­tion, and oth­er tools, with just a sim­ple glance.

The bad news is that the cam­eras may rep­re­sent anoth­er small ero­sion of pri­va­cy. If they’re paired with soon-to-be-manda­to­ry event data recorders (aka “black box­es”) on auto­mo­biles, they could pro­vide per­son­al data to judges and juries dur­ing court cas­es. And if insur­ance com­pa­nies tap into the sys­tems using gad­gets like Progressive’s Snap­shot, they could cause your insur­ance rate to climb.

And in the mid­dle, some­where between good and bad, there’s the fact that See­ing Machines’ devices will ulti­mate­ly be made by Taka­ta — the same Taka­ta that pro­duced mil­lions upon mil­lions of flawed airbag sys­tems, trig­ger­ing recalls around the globe. We have no rea­son to believe that these new sys­tems will be any­thing less than per­fect, but the tim­ing of the announce­ment is unfor­tu­nate.


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