Road accidents and casualties caused by fatigue are an important societal and economical problem for the EU. In 2008 there were 1.2 million road accidents in the EU, which resulted in 1.5 million casualties and 38,000 fatalities. This kind of accident will be the third most common cause of death and disability worldwide, by 2020. According to the figures of the eSafety Forum, the proportion of fatigue-related crashes is about 8.3% of all vehicle crashes. This implies nearly 100,000 crashes, and about 125,000 injured people in the EU every year. But that proportion rises when fatal accidents are considered: driver fatigue accounts for 20-35% of serious accidents. The projection of these figures means that there may be over 7,000 annual fatalities due to fatigue-related accidents in the EU.
Besides the incalculable human and social costs of such accidents, their economical valuation is over €1M per fatality, and from €23,000 to €143,000 per injury, depending on its severity. The costs of the total number of road accidents account for more than €100B every year to the EU. Thus, the economic cost of fatigue-related accidents can be estimated between €10B and €24B annually.
Driver fatigue countermeasures may be directed at drivers, companies, road infrastructure and vehicles. Particular countermeasures that should be considered are: publicity campaigns, infrastructural measures, legislation and enforcement, and in-vehicle systems that warn drivers when they are becoming fatigued. The latter type of solution is the most direct countermeasure, and the one that automotive industry and technology component suppliers may contribute to. Such systems need an input of the driver's state, which may be recorded by the car interior parts in contact with driver's body.
The HARKEN concept
The solution proposed in this project to address the stated need is a nonintrusive sensing system of driver's heart and respiration embedded in the seat cover and the safety belt of a car. It will detect the mechanical effect of heart and respiration activity, filter and cancel the noise and artefacts expected in a moving vehicle (vibration and body movements), and calculate the relevant parameters, which will be delivered in a readable format to integrate it in a fatigue detector.
Overall strategy and general description
The project work plan has been divided into three phases, as represented in the PERT diagram (Figure 1)
Phase 1 (Scientific). Before developing the technology that will be integrated in our product, we need to acquire deeper scientific understanding about the physiological and dynamic actions we are going to measure and process, about the characteristics of smart materials and how can they be modified to achieve the required sensing properties, and about filtering and data fusion techniques, adapted to our purpose. Each one of these knowledge fields will be researched in a different work package. WP1 will be dedicated to defining the characteristics of the variables and the output, considering the requirements of the TIER1 supplier of the automotive industry (FICOMIRRORS) and the manufacturers of technological components (PLUX, SENSINGTEX); RTD performers (IBV and EII) will be responsible of this task from the biomechanic and signal processing perspectives, respectively. UMAN will take most part of the effort in material research (WP2), and will have an important participation in signal processing, with the collaboration of EII (WP3). Each one of these WPs concern the main activity of the technological SMEs (SENSINGTEX and PLUX, respectively), who will provide their expertise for specifications and validation. They will be performed in parallel, although WP3 cannot start until WP1 is finished. But material research will start at the onset of the project, and we expect to have the first results about the end of the first year.
Phase 2 (Technical, integration and demonstration). Our product has three principal components: the sensing seat cover, the sensing safety belt, and the SPU that will process their data. Each one of these three components will be developed in one work package (WP4-6). The two former concern the main activity of SENSINGTEX and the car component manufacturers (BORGSTENA for the seat, and ALATEX for the belt), while the latter is mainly concerned with PLUX's activity. Each SME will participate in its corresponding WP to specify and validate the solutions, developed by UMAN (chiefly for material development) and EII (for the SPU), while IBV will perform the experimental tests to evaluate the components. At the end of these WPs, which will be performed in parallel, we will have the individual components of the product. Then they will be integrated for the project coordinator and integrator BORGSTENA (WP7), and validated at the end of the project in a field trial demonstration (WP8).
Phase 3 (Innovation and management). This phase relates to the exploitation of the project results and other innovation activities (WP9), and the management of the project (WP10), and they will be continuously performed during the whole project. Innovation related activities include defining a license agreement and an exploitation plan between all the SME partners, to achieve a balanced share of the project benefits, and protect the IPR related to project results. The consortium management will be performed by BORGSTENA, who is the project coordinator; they will coordinate the technical progress of the project, financial and legal issues, and will also take the communication between the consortium and the EC. This management activity includes the definition of a consortium agreement, where partners will define their commitments to each other.