Falling asleep at the wheel is extremely dangerous both for the driver, and for others sharing the road with them. A team of researchers at Nottingham Trent University are working on a solution to this driving threat. They're doing it with sensors in a car seat that detect the driver's heart rate, and alert the driver if they start dozing off.

Plessey Semiconductors, a UK company that's collaborating with the university on the research, has already successfully used capacitive sensors mounted in a driver's seat to unobtrusively measure the occupant's cardiac signals.

To make the system really flat and unobtrusive, however, the researchers are proposing an actual textile that would feature the sensors, instead of devices that are attached to existing car seats. The team has a working prototype, but it has cited a need to "improve the consistency and reliability of the data so that it can be used for the intended purpose." Essentially, the data is being gathered, but it's not always reliable and usable.

The proposed system would use the data to send an alert to the driver that they're falling asleep, and that they should pull over. If the alert is ignored, that's where the technology could take over and engage systems such as active cruise control and lane departure systems to guide the car safely. It could even send the information to a control center to take further action. Some might find the idea to be a little intrusive, but if it can actually save lives, it's hard to argue.

The Technology Strategy Board has committed £88,318 (US$151,046) in funding to the project, and it will be quite interesting to see how it develops as it moves along. Of course, there's no time frame for when we might see this technology used in an actual automobile, but it's good to see steps taken in this direction.