Seeing Machines unveils system to keep drivers awake

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The Independent Online

Seeing Machines, an AIM-listed Australian imaging software company, yesterday launched a product that alerts drowsy drivers with an alarm if they start to fall asleep. Driver fatigue is estimated to be responsible for between 15 and 20 per cent of driving accidents.

The system uses a camera installed in the dashboard to monitor a driver's eyes. The company is working with the German automotive technology developer Hella on a mass- market version. The technology includes a GPS aerial to gauge whether the vehicle is in motion to avoid irritating drivers sleeping in stationary vehicles.

Nick Cerneaz, the chief executive of Seeing Machines, said there was huge growth potential for the product given the need to improve safety for drivers. "Take the airbag. When it was first launched, it was only installed in expensive cars. Now you cannot buy a car without one," he said. The system should appeal to long-distance drivers of commercial vehicles but also had mass-market potential, Mr Cerneaz said.

"Safety is a key issue for manufacturers today," he added. The World Health Organisation estimates that 1.2 million people die in road accidents a year while a further 50 million are injured.

The system is based on Seeing Machines' faceLAB technology that was developed by the Australian National University. The imaging software has multiple applications including a system to monitor the trajectory of basketballs to improve shooting accuracy.

Yet the big growth driver for Seeing Machines is the company's glaucoma-detection system called truefield, due for release in 2007. Current detection techniques provide inconsistent results and can take up to an hour to perform, while truefield takes about five minutes to test both eyes. Mr Cerneaz said the system could be used to diagnose a variety of diseases.

Glaucoma affects some 14 million people globally. Its diagnosis is a market estimated to be worth between £200m and £300m a year.

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