A dedicated dashboard camera could soon trigger a warning to drivers who use their phone behind the wheel. Developed by researchers at the University of Santa Catarina (Brazil), the solution was recently highlighted by MIT Technology Review.
Created by five Brazilian university students, the alert system is based on a camera that looks for signs the driver is talking on the phone. There are in fact several indicators, namely the position of certain areas of the driver's face (eyes, cheeks, ears), which point to phone use.
Working in real time, the system processes the images taken in three steps: face detection, evaluation of the position of certain pixels, and calculation of the probability that the driver is actually on the phone. A high probability triggers an alert, which could take the form of a loud noise or a simple vocal warning message.
The algorithm developed currently works on video sequences of 15 frames per second at a resolution of between 320 and 240 pixels.
For the time being, the prototype is around 90 percent accurate on the whole, although the researchers noted that certain lighting conditions led to less reliable results. The system can only detect standard phone calling, not the use of a hands-free system or other mobile device usage such as reading and writing text messages or emails.
It remains to be seen whether consumers and car makers might buy into the idea, which could potentially be more of an annoyance than a help. While talking on the phone is generally considered to greatly increase the likelihood of an accident, it is nonetheless legal in many US states.