Tesla, others seek ways to ensure drivers keep their hands on the wheel | Reuters

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON Automakers are using tiny cameras, sensors to track drooping heads, steering wheel monitors and audible alerts to ensure drivers pay attention when using advanced driver assistance systems, like Tesla’s Autopilot, that allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel.

In a report this week on the May 2016 crash of a Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) Model S that killed a driver who was using Autopilot, the National Transportation Safety Board demonstrated that users could mostly keep their hands off the wheel for extended periods despite repeated warnings from the vehicle.

But the crash underscored a vexing problem for automakers that want to gain an edge by launching technology that completely automates driving tasks. Unless a car is capable of driving itself safely in every situation, drivers will still have to remain alert and ready to take control even if the car is piloting itself.

The NTSB, the federal agency charged with investigating significant transportation accidents, said during a 37-minute section of the 41-minute Tesla trip, the driver kept his hands on the wheel for just 25 seconds, putting his hands on the wheel for one- to- three second increments after getting repeated visual and audible warnings. General Motors Co (GM.N) delayed introduction of a driver assistance technology called Super Cruise that was initially planned for late last year because it said it was not ready. The technology will go on sale this fall.

Barry Walkup, chief engineer of Super Cruise, said the company added “a driver attention function, to insist on driver supervision.” The system uses a small camera that focuses on the driver and works with infrared lights to track head position to determine where the driver is looking. If the system – which uses facial recognition software – detects the driver is not paying attention, it will prompt the driver to return attention to the road. If the driver does…

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