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Behind Caterpillar’s Fatigue Sensors

In 2013, Caterpillar began selling sleep-detection sensors through its dealerships that serve the mining industry. As with much machine technology aimed at improving productivity, the mining sector was the place to be.

Shortly after, editorial director Rod Sutton spoke with David Edwards, safety solutions manager for Cat Global Mining, about the technology, which monitors eye movement to detect fatigue.

Sutton: How did this technology develop?

Edwards: Caterpillar has been exploring operator fatigue for 10 years. Mining customers were asking questions about driver drowsiness. They have to keep machines running 24/7 in order be profitable, but human bodies aren’t designed to perform at peak efficiencies in the nighttime hours. We did some evaluations, and the early technologies weren’t very effective and weren’t ready  to be rolled out to our mining customers.

In the last 3 years, the technology really became viable and we started hearing from customers about products that they were trying at their operations. That’s when we started revaluating the technologies and the providers.

Sutton: How does the camera focus on the eyes to detect fatigue?

Edwards: The face has certain features: eyes, mouth, ears. Those can be identified through image recognition. It knows what a face generally looks like, that eyes are always on top. It can see the corners of the eyes, nostrils and the corners of the mouth. It uses that to build a model of the human face; from there it can focus on the eyes.

It can then actually see the blinking of the eyes. It’s an infrared camera, and it can measure how much light is reflected back. It can determine how long eyes are closed, how fast they open and close. [Eye blinking] is a verifiable feature of true fatigue, so the system knows how fatigued a person is.

Sutton: When can we expect this technology in other construction applications?

Edwards: This alliance positions Cat dealers to become the exclusive sales and service provider for the Seeing Machines fatigue monitoring technology for our mining and quarry customers, other industries may come at a later date.

The alliance also supports collaboration on future product development leveraging [Seeing Machines]  two decades of experience.  We envision this being integrated at some future date. This type of technology isn’t only for fatigue, but also for distraction. Customers have asked for help reducing the distraction of operators by helping keep their eyes on the road.

[Eye monitoring] opens the door to make sure operators are attending to the things they need to be attending to when they need to be. If they’re looking at their iPods or cell phones, it can remind them to check the windshield if they haven’t for a few seconds.

There's been no other way to monitor that. That's what attracted us to this technology: down-the-road applications.