To develop a system which can help detect when drivers are in danger of falling asleep at the wheel, latest advances in capturing data on brain activity and eye movement are being combined.
The research has been undertaken at the University of Leicester with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and in collaboration with the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina.
The breakthrough involves bringing two recent developments in the world of technology together: high-speed eye tracking that records eye movements in unprecedented detail using cutting-edge infra-red cameras; and high-density electroencephalograph (EEG) technology that measures electrical brain activity with millisecond precision through electrodes placed on the scalp.
The research has overcome previous technological challenges which made it difficult to monitor eye movement and brain activity simultaneously.
This could be the first step towards a system that combines brain and eye monitoring to automatically alert drivers who are showing signs of drowsiness.
The system would be built into the vehicle and connected unobtrusively to the driver, with the EEG looking out for brain signals that only occur in the early stages of sleepiness.
The eye tracker would reinforce this by looking for erratic gaze patterns symptomatic of someone starting to feel drowsy and different from those characteristic of someone driving who is constantly looking out for hazards. Fatigue has been estimated to account for around 20 per cent of traffic accidents on the UK's motorways.
Dr Matias Ison, who led the research, said that historically, eye-tracking and EEG have evolved as independent fields.
He said that their team has managed to overcome the challenges standing in the way of integrating these technologies.