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Car seats which warn drivers should they begin to fall asleep at the wheel are being developed as part of a study by Nottingham Trent University researchers. 

Professor Tilak Dias and William Hurley of the University’s Advanced Textile Research Group, will be working with sensor specialist Plessey on a feasibility study to investigate how to integrate an electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor system directly into the fabric of a car seat in an effort to save lives.The study is being funded by the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board. 

With driver fatigue said to be a contributory factor in one in five motorway accidents , the aim is to embed a fabric based sensor system within the seat which can detect the heart signals that indicate a driver is losing alertness. The data would be used to send a warning to the driver to pull over. Should the warning be ignored, the vehicle could engage systems such as active cruise control or lane departure technology to prevent accidents. The information could also be sent over a wireless network to a control centre to take further action.

“Plessey has already demonstrated that cardiac signals can be measured unobtrusively using capacitive sensors mounted within the driver’s seat,” said Professor Dias. “The requirement now is to improve the consistency and reliability of the data so that it can be used for the intended purpose. This requires a novel approach to the design of the electrodes, and Nottingham Trent University’s conductive textile technology offers the potential to produce robust electrodes that can be easily incorporated into automotive seats.”

The Technology Strategy Board has committed £88,318 to the study as part of  its £1.1 million investment in feasibility studies to help the development of internet sensors which allow all kinds of machines and appliances to communicate and co-ordinate with each other through an information network.

The Nottingham Trent University and Plessey project was one of 11 to receive funding through the scheme to develop its concept.

If successful, the aim is to develop the seats initially targeted at lorry drivers but also at the luxury car market.


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