Guardian angel

By: ANJALI BEHL


SPONSORED CONTENT: Monitoring 100 drivers over several months using the latest Guardian in-cab technology, the Advanced Safe Truck Concept (ASTC) project studied driver behaviour with an aim to improve road safety and influence a re-think of professional driving regulations

 

(L to R) Seeing Machines SVP Fleet and Human Factors Dr Mike Lenné, Assistant Minister for Road Safety & Freight Transport Scott Buchholz, Ron Finemore Transport Managing Director Mark Parry, and Monash University Accident Research Centre Associate Director Michael Fitzharris.

Fatigue and driver distraction are two of the most notorious contributors to road accidents, prompting authorities worldwide to implement regulations and policies that encourage the use of road safety and fatigue management technologies.

In Australia, a recent study tested the success, sophistication and benefits of using an innovative driver monitoring system that aims to detect driver fatigue and distraction. The $6.5 million co-operative research centre project, titled the ‘Advanced Safe Truck Concept’ (ASTC), was funded by the Australian Government in partnership with Canberra-based driver monitoring technology company Seeing Machines, the Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC), Ron Finemore Transport Services and Volvo Trucks Australia. 

The project involved studying driver behaviour over many months using the latest in-cab driver monitoring technology from Seeing Machines. The research team fitted 10 of Ron Finemore Transport’s trucks with the Guardian system, monitoring 100 drivers over a period of nine months. The participating drivers collectively made 22,215 trips across more than 1.7 million kilometres, leading to the largest and most comprehensive study anywhere in the world.

"The project has resulted in the pioneering of advanced technology that positions Australia as a leader in driver monitoring technology innovation," Seeing Machines program lead Dr Mike Lenné says. 

"It will allow Australia to influence the global approach to the regulation of professional driving and improve heavy vehicle safety. This is a great example of industry working together, with the support of our government, to enhance safety with a proven policy approach and see it put into practice." 

GUARDIAN TECHNOLOGY

Seeing Machines provides industry-leading fatigue prevention and driver monitoring technologies for the local and international commercial transport sector.

Its Guardian system uses advanced computer vision technology to observe and minimise driver fatigue and distraction events, and associated accidents in commercial fleet applications. The system delivers an intelligent driver safety technology that uses in-cab sensors to monitor the driver’s levels of fatigue and distraction, in real time. The technology system consists of small cameras and connected sensors that are sensitive enough to detect blinking of eyes, head position, and where the driver is looking.

An alarm signals driver fatigue or distraction which triggers the driver’s seat to vibrate rapidly. Meanwhile, an alert is sent by satellite to the Seeing Machines 24/7 monitoring centre, which is accessible by the trucking company in real time, so they can contact the driver and initiate a fatigue management plan.  

The study involved monitoring 100 drivers over nine months using the latest Guardian in-cab technology.

IMPLEMENTATION AND STUDY

With more than 500 people staff and a fleet of over 250 prime movers, Ron Finemore Transport moves food and fuel products across millions of kilometres each year. The business maintains a strong safety culture, which is reflected in its safe and modern fleet that uses the latest driver fatigue and safety monitoring technology to minimise risks.

Ron Finemore Transport general manager – technology and innovation, Darren Wood, says the company has been using the Guardian technology in its fleet since 2015. At that time, it installed the technology into 10 of its vehicles and its success over the years led the company to make it a mandatory feature for all its trucks. Many of Ron Finemore Transport team’s suggestions have also been incorporated in the products today.

"We’re an innovative business, we like to understand how new technologies work," Wood says. "As a result of sharing a relationship with Seeing Machines that is trusting and innovative, and being a customer that is a willing participant to make the product even better, we were asked to participate in this study."

Through various research projects over the years, MUARC, one of the world’s leading comprehensive injury prevention research institutions, has contributed to a range of workplace and community safety initiatives across Victoria. Not unlike other participants, the Monash research team involved in this project was excited with the prospects of this study. 

To test the sensing platform and fine-tune the instrumentation process that would result in minimal disruption to Ron Finemore Transport’s operations during the naturalistic driving study, the research team used Australia’s first research-based truck simulator at MUARC. The team conducted tests on 74 drivers under varying conditions. The drivers were sleep-deprived and then intentionally distracted during simulation for two-hours.

The results indicated drivers were twice as likely to crash when fatigued, but 11 times more likely to crash when fatigued and distracted at the same time. The study was enhanced by Volvo contributing a truck to serve as a development test-bed for the driver-sensing platform which could be seamlessly installed in the MUARC truck and car simulator, as well as the RFT fleet.

"We were excited at the prospect of being part of a study that aimed to put more depth into understanding the principles behind fatigue and driver distraction management so we could coordinate with our workforce in a more productive and proactive way in the future," Wood says. 

"Each member of our operations team was given full training and to this day this is one of the most successful programs we have implemented in the business because at every stage of the project each process was followed to the letter.

"We have had excellent feedback from the project. We engaged proactively with our drivers all along the process, keeping them informed through regular updates on the progress of the project. Our participating drivers have been very accommodating and understanding of what we were asking them to do, and very interested in the outcome of the project so there has been lots of follow on discussions and communication since it all started. Following the completion of the project some of our participating drivers have even taken part in media forums at various milestone events of the project.

"For us, using this technology in our vehicles is a mandatory requirement for safety reasons. The way we think of safety in our business, the use of this technology is compulsory for us. Our long-term view is that this technology should be, if not mandatory, highly sought after and should provide some sort of financial incentives through insurance premiums to the industry. Overall, it’s about keeping workers safe and getting our drivers back home safe to their families.

"We are looking forward to seeing some of the suggestions that our drivers made to make the interaction between the driver of the vehicle and the in-cab technology even better, even more accommodating to driver needs and overall less intrusive being implemented into future releases of the product," Wood adds. 

Guardian system uses advanced computer vision technology to observe driver fatigue and distraction events.

FUTURE BENEFITS AND TECHNOLOGY IMPLICATIONS

It is a general consensus among all participating groups that this study offers an opportunity for policymakers to apply a more personalised approach to managing risks linked with fatigue and understanding how work hours are implemented in practice.

"Addressing key risk factors such as distraction and fatigue will be critical in reducing the number of people killed and injured on our roads. In-vehicle technology will play a key role in achieving this," MUARC director Professor Judith Charlton says.

The study was a successful platform to test the latest sensor technology with an aim to reduce heavy vehicle crashes, improve driver well-being and help trucking companies better manage their fatigue in their driving workforce, she adds.

"Keeping our drivers safe and being able to detect fatigue and distraction prior to an incident or accident will help keep our drivers and other road users safe. This will support our company’s proactive approach to driver safety and wellbeing – which is at the centre of our business from culture to operations," Ron Finemore Transport managing director Mark Parry says.

"By allowing researchers to work with our truck drivers directly, they now have a detailed understanding of their tasks, needs, and driving environments," he adds.

MUARC associate director Michael Fitzharris says the research not only has major implications for policy implementation but it will also allow a re-think of current best practices in managing driver fatigue and distraction levels for commercial drivers.

"With driver distraction and drowsiness known to be key contributors to road fatalities and injuries globally, this research will enable the implementation of highly advanced and sophisticated driver monitoring technology that will play a key role in reducing the number of people killed and injured on our roads in the future," he says.

Fitzharris adds that the benefits of this type and sophistication have significant road safety benefits for all vehicles on the road, not just trucks.

"This is not just for trucks, but all passenger vehicles. This will improve the safety of all road users, including pedestrians and cyclists," he says. 

The technology system consists of small cameras and connected sensors that can detect driver’s head position and blinking of eyes.

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