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Wireless device tracks driver's stress level

06 Mar 2015  | Julien Happich

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Pulse rate alone can't give an accurate reading of a person's stress level. Physical activities such as jogging may contribute to it as well so if not combined with other indicators such as skin conductance, it may be impossible to distinguish between healthy physical stress and bad emotional stress.

Some academic papers looked into this to better secure biometric authentication and prevent forced access, for example to detect a stressful situation when someone with the right biometric credentials would be used as a live key.

In that case, monitoring stress would add another security layer to existing biometric templates, preventing fake or even non-living samples (a chopped finger or its equivalent fingerprint stamp). Other papers study the use of Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) data to distinguish between positive stress (seen as a form of excitement or high motivation) and poor motivation.

Stress monitor

Software engineering company EPAM Systems looks at GSR data to monitor drivers' stress levels, offering to analyse the data from a wrist-worn GSR sensor (two electrodes in direct contact with the skin and correlating it to the vehicle's infotainment system (a first connection through Bluetooth LE then a GSM connection to the cloud for further analytics).

Driving can be stressful for all sorts of reasons. Some are inherent to the car's parameters (warning indicators such as low fuel or low tyre pressure, loud music or radio, high speed) and some are due to the ongoing traffic, the weather conditions, navigational problems encountered by the driver. Then there is the driver exposed to long driving hours and tiredness, varying personal moods sometimes linked to private issues and occasionally turning into road rage.

"Often the drivers themselves are not conscious that they are stressed. By analysing both the vehicle's parameters and the driver's physiological data, we can identify and correlate the sources of stress to specific road situations or driving behaviours," Mikhail Boiko, director of Embedded Practice at EPAM Systems, told us during a demo at embedded world.

Using data filtration and stress detection algorithms in the cloud, the smart wristband can then notify the driver of his stress level, and possibly coach her/him into less stressful situations or driving behaviours (or suggest a rest, since each individual driver has a log into the vehicle infotainment system).

Based on the stress analysis, Boiko said the infotainment system could suggest alternative routes to avoid recurrent stress hot spots, or try tame the driver into a smoother driving experience. For more situational awareness, the smart wristband continuously records voice, only storing voice events during stress periods (and the 15mn preceding the stress).

That leaves little room for privacy and possibly every vociferated F... word may end up identified as a companion of stress, but in the case of lorry or bus drivers, the insurance companies may have the last word.

In fact, having acquired healthcare technology consulting firm Netsoft USA last year, EPAM Systems is hoping to strengthen its position as a global provider of healthcare and insurance services and is certainly promoting technology adoption to its clients.

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