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Hong Kong innovators

Smart alarm app to keep Hong Kong drivers from dozing at the wheel

Invention has clinched international award and is more assessible compared with built-in models in luxury cars

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 June, 2017, 11:20pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 June, 2017, 11:20pm

An award-winning smartphone app designed to monitor and alert drivers from dozing off at the wheel, may help reduce risks on the roads.

The app, developed by Professor Cheung Yiu-ming from Baptist University, can observe a driver’s facial and head movements with the front camera of a mobile phone.

A chirping alarm will be activated if a driver’s eyelids are drooping or the driver displays frequent head nods, all possible signs of dozing off on the road. The alarm can only be turned off by hand or voice.

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“We have tested the system with 20 people, resulting in an accuracy rate of 85 per cent,” Cheung said. “We can adjust some parameters to make the system more sensitive if necessary.”

From 2010 to 2015, there were 151 road accidents found related to drowsy or fatigue drivers, out of which seven were fatal and 36 were serious, according to the Transport Department.

Cheung said currently there were other similar systems installed in only a few luxury car models, but these required expensive built-in devices. In contrast, his invention will be more portable and accessible to drivers in general.

The system clinched two top prizes at the 45th International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva in April, and Cheung intended to commercialise the technology.

However, an information engineering expert remained sceptical about the system’s reliability, while a labour rights watcher said the device still did not tackle the problem of long working hours – blamed for wearing down professional drivers.

Assistant Professor Lin Dahua from Chinese University said: “The technology itself is pretty mature. Even an ordinary detector can have an accuracy rate of above 90 per cent.”

While agreeing that the mobile system would be handy, the scholar added: “There are two problems using smartphones. They may not be able to monitor other vehicle components for better accuracy. Also, if the phone is placed at a wrong angle, face reading results will be affected.”

Cheung suggested that the phone be placed on the dashboard at a 30-degree angle to the driver’s face.

“A new detector may help reduce some risks but it can’t solve the fundamental problem of long working hours for professional drivers,” Carlos Hung Chun-ngai, an officer from the Logistics Industry and Container Truck Drivers Union, said. “Once the driver dozes off, even one second can lead to very severe results.”

In July 2015, the driver of a seven-seater car crashed his vehicle into the railing on Tsing Ma Bridge, killing one passenger. The motorist was a concrete truck driver by profession, and the dead victim was his colleague. They were going home after almost 24 hours of work.

Standard working hours have not been put into law despite years of debate. Container truck drivers work 12 to 14 hours a day earning about HK$20,000 monthly on average, according to Hung.