As with most advances in technology, sensors are getting smaller and less expensive. Vehicle manufacturers have shown great appetite for deploying them, with the global market for automotive sensors predicted to top $US25 billion in 2018.
This miniaturisation trend means more and more sensors can be crammed into modern vehicles, which increases their ability to communicate with each other and their surrounding environments. It also offers up tons of useful telematics data your business can use to improve driver behaviour.
Creating driver profiles
Data generated by telematics systems and other onboard sensors provides valuable information about gear changing habits, average and maximum speed, acceleration, cornering and braking. Over time this can be used to build individual profiles for each driver.
Braking times will show which drivers are regularly tailgating the vehicle in front of them. Sensors can also detect traffic light colours and, combined with acceleration or gear change data, will identify drivers gambling on amber signals. Both scenarios provide an opportunity to issue warnings or send repeat offenders for training.
The ability to run a report on individual driving behaviour helps fleet managers and hire companies improve the on-road behaviour of drivers. When managed effectively your fleet data tells a story you can use to reduce maintenance costs, excessive fuel burn and the risk of collision.
Fatigue is one of the biggest killers on our roads. In 2012, more people died in fatigue-related crashes than drink driving incidents. Sensors are increasingly being used to reduce this risk by detecting tiredness and stress levels.
Some luxury vehicles now come equipped with sensors to monitor heart rate or perform retinal scans of drivers. Land Rover has installed haptic accelerator pedals in some models that read and communicate hazards to drivers, while Volvo helps drivers to stay in lane by applying extra torque in the steering wheel when the car detects it is drifting.
SmartCap is another example. This baseball cap measures brain activity to predict fatigue levels and sends smartphone alerts when the driver is in danger of falling asleep.
Efforts to reduce the number and severity of road accidents are focused largely on providing driver education and the delivery of in-vehicle warnings. Sensors can alert drivers when they're not wearing a seat belt, for example, or have engaged cruise control for long periods of time. They can detect potential hazards on the road and flag difficult driving conditions. Headlights can be adjusted automatically according to weather conditions and ambient darkness, while brakes can be systematically applied when obstacles are perceived.
Sensors can monitor fault codes and tell you when repairs or maintenance are required, helping to prevent smaller issues becoming more serious and costly problems. This is much more efficient and effective than relying solely on scheduled maintenance to pick up faults. If your brake fluid starts leaking months before your next scheduled maintenance, you risk doing a lot of costly damage before the problem is picked up. Even worse, it greatly increases the likelihood this vehicle will be involved in an incident.
The future of sensors
With vehicle manufacturers and technology companies developing more and more ways to keep tabs on a driver's vital signs, including blood pressure, ambient heat, pulse, breathing and sweat levels, vehicles that know when you're tired or stressed aren't as futuristic as you might think:
- Cameras can already be installed on dashboards to monitor eye activity and fatigue levels. These devices measure eyelid position, blinking frequency and eye movement to assess your safety behind the wheel.
- In-vehicle systems are being developed to know if a driver is under the influence of drink or drugs. These could prevent a vehicle being started under these circumstances.
- Respiration monitors built into seatbelts can detect when a driver is stressed and trigger alerts.
- 'Do Not Disturb' functions can be activated on a driver's phone to minimise distractions.
Although much of this technology is still quite new and expensive, imagination is the only limitation and biometric sensors are the next frontier in smart driving. Integrating these biometric inputs with telematics data will go a long way to making our roads safer for all users.