How is the mining industry connected to the next big breakthrough in auto safety?

Thanks to the tireless efforts of scientists, engineers and software developers, many of the vehicles on the roads and highways are now equipped with safety technology that would have been unheard of a decade ago. Indeed, there's now technology to stop rear-end collisions, prevent lane departures and even assume complete control of the driving experience.

As fascinating and encouraging as this has been, there are a few areas in which real safety solutions are still lacking, including drowsy driving. Interestingly enough, however, we may be on the precipice of seeing this dangerous driving condition rectified by safety technology currently being deployed in a somewhat unlikely industry.

What exactly is this industry and what technology are they using?  

Caterpillar Safety Services, a subsidiary of the Illinois-based construction giant, has outfitted 5,000 vehicles around the world involved in mining operations with facial recognition software and equipment designed by the tech company Seeing Machines.

What exactly does this facial recognition software and equipment do?  

The equipment, which consists of a camera, speaker and advanced light system, is constantly -- and unobtrusively -- measuring drivers for any signs of fatigue, including changes in head position or eye closure.

In the event a so-called "fatigue event" is detected, an in-cab alarm sounds and a video clip is sent to Caterpillar headquarters for review by its "sleep fatigue center," which is manned 24-7. After review, a safety advisor will contact the driver over the radio, the site manager will be alerted and the parties will discuss the necessity of a sleep intervention.

Why is this being used in the mining industry?

The mining industry is a viable candidate for facial recognition software and equipment owing to the massive size of the vehicles used in operations and the fact that drivers at these sites typically work odd hours.

Has it proven effective?

According to Caterpillar, the company rolled out the systems last July and has recorded roughly 600 fatigue events since that time. While this may seem like quite a few, it's actually an 80 percent drop in fatigue events from prior years.

Here, both Caterpillar and Seeing Machines attribute it to the fact that alarms make drivers more aware of drowsy driving both in the moment and in general.

Is this technology being used in passenger vehicles?  

While the facial recognition software and equipment has yet to make its way to the consumer sector, many experts are predicting it's only a matter of time.

Here's hoping we see this happen sooner than later.

If you've been seriously injured or lost a loved one in a truck accident caused by the reckless actions of a trucker or trucking company, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional to learn more about your options.

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