Instituto de Biomecánica de Valencia (IBV) has helped develop a system to prevent driver fatigue and sleepiness. In the framework of the European project HARKEN, the device was created and features integrated smart textiles that are able to measure heartbeat and respiratory rate while the subject is driving.

This noninvasive sensor system is embedded into the vehicle’s seat cover and the seatbelt. IBV director of innovation markets in automobile and mass transportation, José Solaz, says in a release: “The variations in heart and respiratory rate are good indicators of the state of the driver as they are related to fatigue. So when people go into a state of fatigue or drowsiness, modifications appear in their breathing and heart rate; Harken can monitor those variables and therefore warn the driver before the onset of symptoms of fatigue.”

The Harken device, developed by companies, universities, and technology centers of the consortium, is an “innovative solution because it measures both variables on a scenario affected by vibrations and user movements, by means of intelligent materials embedded into the seat cover and the seatbelt. The system detects the mechanical effect of the heartbeat and the respiratory activity, filtering and cancelling the noise caused by the moving vehicle elements (vibrations and body movements), calculating the relevant parameters that will be integrated into future fatigue or somnolence detectors,” Solaz says.

The outcome of this project is a fully functional prototype that allows anticipating the symptoms of fatigue associated with breathing and heart rate, and monitors this physiological activity, with the aim of reducing the number of accidents.

The system is based on three main components: the seat sensor, the seatbelt sensor, and the signal-processing unit (SPU), which processes the sensor data on real time. They are invisible to the user.

Solaz says the device has been tested by users in closed track tests. And, thanks to its short time-to-market scope, Project Harken will soon have vehicles in the streets in order to run tests in real traffic scenarios. Preliminary tests “have led to positive and reliable results, thus, Harken helps in the near future to reduce accidents,” Solaz says.