NICTA readies Linux-powered driving aid

Failing to see a sign may be an excuse of the past for speeding when National ICT Australia's (NICTA) Linux-based Smart Cars technology comes to market within 12 months.

The Smart Cars project is a joint effort between NICTA, the CSIRO, and the Australian National University, with NICTA writing the software using Linux and open source.

NICTA's vision science, technology and applications (VISTA) project manager Lars Petersson said the project is all about making driving safer, not replacing the driver.

"We are enhancing an already good driver with computer technology," Petersson said. "Most accidents happen when the driver is being distracted or is tired. So if we are able to make them slightly better we can get rid of lots of accidents."

The Smart Car system takes a feed from a camera and processes images to detect pedestrians, speed signs, and other vehicles. It then warns the driver if they are not obeying the speed limit.

"We try to monitor all the different aspects of the scene around the car," Petersson said. "We are also using a system to track the eye gaze direction of the driver and we can see if the driver looked at the car stereo or [has seen] a sign and therefore missed the pedestrian."

By monitoring the inside and outside of the vehicle, Smart Cars aims to give the appropriate advice to the driver.

Petersson said the speed sign detection system is closest to commercialization, which, when in production, will incorporate a camera, the software, and a small display in a device about the size of a mobile phone. NICTA estimates the production units will be priced at around $300 to $400.

During its annual Techfest in Sydney this week, NICTA demonstrated its Smart Cars technology using multiple computers in a large four-wheel drive. Petersson described this as "overkill" and said the core components will be "something people want in their cars".

NICTA is now in negotiations with after-market car accessory manufacturers and other entities interested in licensing the technology.

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