Tobii's driver monitoring system aims to improve Asia's bus safety

Peng Chen, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0

Tipu Sultan is the Asia Pacific general manager and VP of sales and marketing at Tobii. Credit: DIG

Monitoring the driver's state is critical to facilitate road safety. Stockholm-headquartered Tobii has launched a software for driver monitoring system (DMS) leveraging its eye-tracking technology. The company plans to scale the solution in Asia's public transportation and the car sector, enhancing the safety of bus systems.

With over 20 years of experience in eye-tracking technology, Tobii's solutions have been applied to scientific research, extended reality, gaming, PC, education, automotive, and many other fields. Its DMS, one of the company's latest products, received the first design win from the world's largest automotive tier-1 supplier in April 2023. A Europe-based commercial vehicle manufacturer will adopt the system in its heavy vehicles.

A system that monitors and saves lives

Tobii said the DMS can detect driver drowsiness and distraction by gathering various biological signals, including the driver's gaze and the direction their head faces. If the system finds that the driver has not looked at the roads for some time, it will activate an alarm to remind them. When the driver faces the front but gets distracted by videos or other things, the system will also send out a notice, the company said.

According to Tobii, the algorithms enabling the DMS analyze data gathered by a camera and detect if the driver is tired or unresponsive. This feature could be important for public bus systems and companies as bus drivers usually have to drive for long hours. Tobii said if a driver falls asleep or gets a stroke, the DMS could alert them or help contact first responders.

Tipu Sultan (known as Tipu in the industry), Asia Pacific general manager and vice president of sales and marketing at Tobii, said the European Union has mandated that all new cars sold in the region be equipped with a camera-based DMS by 2026. China has also prioritized the safety feature. Moreover, Tobii has seen the technology's potential in Japan and South Korea.

According to Tipu, many automotive players have planned or are supporting DMS. He said Tobii does not require customers to use specific cameras because its eye-tracking technology can work on most cameras. The company trains the camera with algorithms to ensure the DMS functions under a wide range of lighting conditions, regardless of hats, glasses, and ethnicity.

The system can also facilitate car accident investigation. Tipu said DMS software can show whether the driver was paying attention to the roads or looking at the right place when the accident happened. Sultan added that the data can be retrieved immediately and reduce the time needed for investigation.

Tobii's software enables the DMS to detect a driver's gaze and other signals. Credit: DIGITIMES Asia

Tobii's software enables the DMS to detect a driver's gaze and other signals. Credit: DIGITIMES Asia

Working with partners to reduce development costs

Tobii's eye-tracking technology is also widely used in XR headsets. The company's machine-learning algorithms interpret a headset's camera feed to generate a real-time stream of data points such as pupil size, gaze vector, and eye openness. The company said the information can be used, for example, to determine how well a person can follow a stimulus, how they react to a scene, and their intent. Recently, Tobii's solution has enabled Pimax Crystal, PlayStation VR2, and other headsets.

However, companies like Apple and Meta have launched their headsets and have been developing their eye-tracking technology. How will Tobii try to build a partnership with these big players?

Tipu said Tobii has the right contacts with Apple and Meta. He also said Tobii would show the value it can bring and how it achieves better user experience when engaging with companies. He added that these companies understand they might not be able to develop all aspects of advanced eye-tracking technology themselves in a short period of time.

Tobii has been talking to every business intending to build VR or AR devices, Tipu said. While not every company will become a customer, the conversations can ensure that they know Tobii is the standard in eye-tracking.

Applications of VR and AR have gained more traction recently, Tipu said. For example, the technologies have been used for maintenance training. Workers who wear headsets can familiarize themselves with the maintenance process before working on real parts.

However, VR and AR headsets are still viewed as premium devices. Bringing down the costs is critical to grow adoption. Tipu said Tobii has worked with partners like Qualcomm, OmniVision, and contract manufacturers (ODM) to drive down the costs for sensors, cameras, and the whole development process.

Tipu said Tobii has collaborated with Qualcomm and other ecosystem partners to build a reference design for XR headsets, allowing customers to develop their devices based on it. It is a more cost-effective and faster approach for OEMs to come up with their own XR devices.

Tobii helps OEM partners review the hardware design in addition to offering software solutions, according to Tipu. He said the company engages at the beginning of the product development lifecycle to ensure that all potential issues are addressed before OEMs finalize their hardware design.