A SMART steering wheel that alerts drowsy drivers and reacts the aggressive driving will soon become a reality in Scotland according to scientists.
Cars of the near future will be packed with hidden sensors capable of monitoring and responding to driver fatigue, mood and behaviour – built in to the steering wheel.
They include grip sensors that trigger an alarm if the driver’s hands leave the steering wheel while the car is in motion, a sign that a may be struggling to stay awake.
Gas sensors could also detect a build-up of carbon dioxide (CO2) inside a car which can cause drowsiness and is believed to contribute to hundreds of road accidents in Britain each year.
Levels of the gas can increase when air is recirculated inside a car, a common feature of modern air conditioning systems.
The intelligent steering wheel will also be able to detect aggressive driving, such as swerving and subtly influence the car’s responsiveness to minimise the risk if the driver losing control.
It is estimated that at least 300 people are killed annually in Britain because drivers fall asleep.
Scientists from 12 Scottish universities have teamed up to explore how sensors can be used to save lives and protect the environment.
The Centre for Sensor and Imaging Systems (Censis) aims to bring 150 news products to market by 2019, the £10m initiative will be unveiled by ministers this week.
Mark Begbie, a senior member of Censis said: “The smart steering wheel is an excellent example of how sensors, unnoticed and in unexpected places, can form the basis of quite remarkable innovations.
“The task of this new initiative is to help translate the world-class engineering research in universities all around Scotland into commercial innovations that will benefit the world around us.”
According to Brake, the road safety charity, about a third of drivers ignore signs of drowsiness while driving.
Almost half of men and a fifth of women who responded to the poll admitted “nodding off” at the wheel.
A new breed of intelligent sensors could solve technological challenges in medical diagnostics, drug discovery, intelligent transport systems and help protect the environment.
Many cities around the world, including Glasgow and London, monitor air pollution but a network of new generation sensors could automatically shut roads and divert traffic from areas where emissions threaten to breach maximum levels.
Scotland’s sensor technology industry is worth around £2.6bn per year but the aim is to significantly increase this – Globally, the industry could be worth more than £360bn by 2015.
With CO2 sensors expected to become mandatory features of all European cars within a few years, the race is on to produce low-cost, power-efficient sensors with lifespans of at least 10 years that will appeal to the mass markets.
Fergus Ewing, enterprise minister said: “By bringing expertise together, Censis is ideally placed to continue to development of our broad and deep research capabilities.
“Aligning activity within universities to address industry- defined needs gives us the potential for substantial future growth.”
David Clark, chief executive of Censis, said: “We have a major challenge ahead of us, but the potential for economic growth in the sector is enormous.”