While many automotive companies focus on improving safety via enhanced crashworthy structures and highly sophisticated onboard warning and driver support systems, some are applying lateral thought to broader “cause-and-effect” aspects.
One example: Autoliv is a partner in a driver alcohol sensing feasibility study co-sponsored by the U.S. Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Håkan Pettersson, Autoliv’s manager for the project, said that his company’s aim is to develop a system that would identify small variations in air composition within an arm’s length of a vehicle driver’s mouth and nose. No mouthpiece would be required and no specific driver action; the system would be wholly passive.
“We are not saying we have all the solutions today, but we feel we can make a significant contribution to hopefully some day solve the problem of [alcohol-caused] impaired driving,” said Pettersson.
The technology Autoliv is using for its research work centers on nondispersive infrared spectroscopy, a sensing principle for alcohol and CO2. Pettersson explains that by measuring the co-relation between alcohol and CO2 in the exhaled breath of a driver, the required detection criteria could be met, and the system would provide required levels of sensitivity and reliability at what he terms “reasonable cost.”
It would also not be intrusive for a sober driver and would not necessitate having to blow onto a sensor, something likely to cause resistance to a driver alcohol level detection system’s general introduction.
Multiple sensors placed in the vehicle cabin would allow the system to determine that a breath sample is only that of the driver, so avoiding a spurious reading based on the breath of passengers who might have ingested alcohol.
“This is an important first step by ACTS and the NHTSA to find an appropriate technology to reduce the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities,” said Pettersson.
Autoliv is working with SenseAir AB and Hok Instrument AB, who have expertise and experience in the required areas of research. Initial phase of the project is slated for completion by July this year.