If there’s one thing people know about operating heavy machinery, it’s that you should never, ever do it drowsy. And yet, such things happen all the time, with (predictably) disastrous results. Such accidents may be a thing of the past, however, thanks to a new invention from an Australian company that will warn when operators are just a little bit too tired for their own – and other peoples’ – good.
The invention goes by the practical name of the Fatigue Monitoring System, and it’s the creation of a company called Seeing Machines, based in Canberra. Using an infrared camera – designed strong enough to see through sunglasses – the Fatigue Monitoring System pays close attention to the eyes of those operating heavy duty vehicles to check for signs of tiredness that could lead to accidents down the line.
The system sends a visual feed of the operator’s eyes through to an image-processing computer that tracks how often the operator is blinking and how long each blink takes. That information is used to calculate just how close to “microsleep” – otherwise known as dozing if you wanna get less technical – the operator may be. If the answer is “too close,” then the system will gently ensure the operator is kept awake by vibrating the seat and emitting a shrill alarm that is, in the words of Seeing Machines CEO Ken Kroeger, “humanly impossible to sleep through.”
For those who feel as if such a loud alarm runs the risk of causing the operator to overreact and create an accident that way, there is an alternative. If the operator is judged to be distracted but not sleepy, an “Eyes on Road” message will be emitted.
Kroeger is already facing accusations that the Fatigue Monitoring System is less interested in preventing accidents, and more interested in spying on the workforce. In an interview with New Scientist, he defends that the system is “not being used as a stick to fire people” but has, instead, saved on the both financial and human cost of workplace accidents. In tests, he explained, the F.M.S. managed to reduce fatigue-related accidents by 72 percent – a figure that is even more impressive when you realize that fatigue is behind 70 percent of operator-caused accidents in the workplace related to heavy vehicles.
In a pilot program in Denver, Colorado’s Newsmont Mining, the company learned the potential value of the system. According to a statement by a Newsmont Mining spokesman, the Fatigue Monitoring System “reduced fatigue-related events by 90 percent” during the trial period. Surely with that kind of results, it’d be worth putting up with however many alarms and alerts issued every day – if only until workers learn how to not to fall asleep at work.