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Steering your car with your eyes

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Because your eyes move faster than your arms, an optical device may one day steer your car around sudden, sharp curves the instant you see the danger ahead, according to a team of German researchers.

“The ultimate goal of the project is to build a device into cars that warns the driver if he is in danger of unintentionally departing from the lane,” says Farid I. Kandil of the Department of Psychology, University of Muenster, Germany.It is well-documented that when negotiating winding roads, drivers tend to look at a specific, well-defined point on the lane marking — referred to as the tangent point.

The German researchers have found that the further drivers can look ahead, generally in left-hand curves, wide curves and when leaving a curve, the less they have to look at the tangent point.Constructing a device which registers those subtle eye movements could reduce the danger of losing control in a curve. In the study, six drivers test-drove a car repeatedly through a series of curves, on real roads while their eye movements were recorded.

The results confirmed the tangent point reference before turning the steering wheel.The findings further revealed that a driver will look at the tangent point 80 per cent of the time when there is a shorter sight distance, such as with sharp, right-hand curves.In open bends such as left-hand curves, and when leaving curves, drivers spent a third of their time looking at the end of the curve and the straight road that comes after. “The system we envision will look out for upcoming curves and retrieve information about the eye movements the driver normally performs,” explains Kandil. “If the driver does not show his typical pattern of eye movements upon approaching a bend, then the system will assume that he has not seen it and will warn him in time.”

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