A new study released by Florida Atlantic University (FAU) indicates cognitive changes in older drivers can be detected relatively easily through the use of low-cost, in-vehicle sensors.

Because current screening and evaluation to evaluate cognitive decline in senior drivers is limited, nursing, engineering and neuropsychology researchers at Florida Atlantic University have developed a readily available, unobtrusive in-vehicle sensing system.

In their study, published in the journal BMC Geriatrics, they systematically examined how the system can detect anomalous driving behavior indicative of cognitive impairment.

“Few studies have reported on the use of continuous, unobtrusive sensors and related monitoring devices for detecting subtle variability in the performance of highly complex everyday activities over time,” the report authors wrote.

“The neuropathologies of Alzheimer’s disease have been found in the brains of older drivers killed in motor vehicle accidents who did not even know they had the disease and had no apparent signs of it,” said Ruth Tappen, Ed.D., principal investigator, senior author and the Christine E. Lynn Eminent Scholar and Professor, FAU Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing. “The purpose of our study arose from the importance of identifying cognitive dysfunction as early and efficiently as possible. Sensor systems installed in older drivers’ vehicles may detect these changes and could generate early warnings of possible changes in cognition.”

Continuous information on driving behavior is collected that is then compared with the results of extensive cognitive testing conducted every three months for three years.

A driver-facing camera, forward-facing camera, and telematics unit are installed in the vehicle and data is downloaded every three months when the cognitive tests are administered, according to the study authors.

Researchers gauge abnormal driving behavior such as getting lost, ignoring traffic signals and signs, near-collision events, distraction and drowsiness, reaction time and braking patterns. They review travel patterns such as number of trips, miles driven, miles on the highway, miles during the night and daytime and driving in severe weather.

The in-vehicle sensor network developed by FAU researchers in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, uses open-source hardware and software components to reduce the time, risks and costs associated with developing in-vehicle sensing units, researchers said.

Sensor size is kept small by “minimizing complex wiring, limiting the size of the sensing units, and limiting the number of sensors in a vehicle to support the unobtrusiveness of in-vehicle sensors,” the study noted.

Each in-vehicle sensor system includes two distributed sensing units: one for telematics data and the other for video data.

Inertial measurement unit data is processed to determine hard braking, hard accelerations and hard turns and GPS data, researchers indicated. It also includes a timestamp, latitude, longitude, altitude, course over ground and the number of communicating satellites.

The video is analyzed in real-time using artificial intelligence.

The driver-facing camera is mounted in the left corner of the windshield and is directed to the driver’s face to analyze his/her behavior and facial expressions, while the forward-facing camera is mounted under the rearview mirror and is used to record events external to the vehicle.

Driver-facing indices include face detection, eye detection (open or closed), yawning, distraction, smoking and mobile phone use, the article said.

Behavior indices include traffic sign detection (running a red light), object detection (pedestrian, cyclists, curbs, barriers or nearby vehicles), lane crossing, near-collision and pedestrian detection.

“These travel-pattern-related driver behavior indices are known to be indicative of the changes in older drivers’ cognition and physical functions since they tend to incorporate deliberate avoidance strategies to compensate for age-related deficits,” said Tappen. “Driver behavior indices are evaluated for each driver and are summarized on a daily, weekly and monthly basis and are classified into four categories.”

Testing will continue as 460 study participants, classified into three diagnostic groups: mild cognitive impairment, early dementia and unimpaired (normal), will be recruited from Broward and Palm Beach counties in Southeast Florida.

The Louis and Anne Green Memory and Wellness Center operated by FAU’s College of Nursing will serve as the testing site for a clinical battery including assessments of cognition, functioning in daily activities and mood (depression), and an additional set of tests including executive function and attention.

“The innovation of our research project lies in the unobtrusive, rapidly and readily available in-vehicle sensing and monitoring system built upon modern open-source hardware and software using existing techniques to develop and customize the components and configure them for this new purpose,” said Tappen.

This is a summary of an article written by Gisele Galoustian. Read the full article at https://www.fau.edu/newsdesk/articles/in-vehicle-sensors-older-drivers