The most immediate impetus: concerns about the safe use of driver-assistance options like automatic lane-keeping that still require drivers to pay attention. And when truly autonomous vehicles finally arrive, the consensus among automakers and their suppliers is that new ways will be needed to check on drivers and passengers to make sure they are safe inside.
“It’s really taken off from no car monitor to tactile monitoring to taking a look at your eyes,” said Grant Courville, a vice president at BlackBerry QNX, which creates in-dash software systems. “I definitely see more of that coming as you get to Level 3 cars,” he added, referring to vehicles that can perform some self-driving functions in limited situations.The feature is part of the car’s Super Cruise system, the first hands-free driving tool to operate on select United States highways. The camera tracks a driver’s head position and eye movements to ensure that the person is attentive and able to retake control of the car when needed.
Similar concerns about BMW’s semi-autonomous systems prompted the German carmaker to add a driver monitoring camera in its 2019 X5 sport utility vehicle. The video camera is mounted in the instrument cluster as part of BMW’s Extended Traffic Jam Assistant system, part of a $1,700 package, that allows the car to go autonomous — with driver monitoring — in stop-and-go traffic under 37 miles per hour.
“It looks at the head pose and the eyes of the driver,” said Dirk Wisselmann of BMW’s automated driving program. “We have to, because by doing so it empowers us to add more functionality.”
Automakers understand that tracking technology raises privacy issues, so BMW does not record or store the ahd car monitor information, Mr. Wisselmann said.
Perhaps still smarting from lessons learned in the past, G.M. also does not record what transpires inside the car’s cabin, the company said. In 2011, G.M. tried to change the user agreement in its OnStar service to allow it to share driver information with third-party companies. The backlash from owners was so swift and severe that the Supreme Court cited the episode as proof that people had an expectation of privacy in their cars.
“But it’s not just about distraction management,” said Jada Smith, a vice president in the advanced engineering department at the auto supplier Aptiv. During an autonomous driving demonstration, she pointed out that such driver monitoring systems can assess a driver’s cognitive load levels — how many tasks the person is trying to juggle — and then adjust other car functions.
“If the driver is not fully aware,” Ms. Smith said, “we might brake faster.” Other ideas include putting radar inside the car for interior sensing like detecting that a child has been left behind. (Every nine days a child left in a car dies from vehicular heatstroke in the United States, according to KidsAndCars.org, an advocacy group.)