GM reportedly ready to introduce facial recognition tech in cars

Have your eye on a new car? Well, it soon may be looking back at you.

General Motors is set to introduce vehicles with facial recognition technology in an effort to combat distracted driving, according to a report in The Financial Times.

The system, reportedly developed by Seeing Machines, an Australian outfit working with the automotive supplier Takata, uses a camera to monitor head movement and eye-blink frequency. It can “see” when a driver is dozing off behind the wheel or is looking away from the road, perhaps to use a cellphone, and it then takes action to alert the driver.

General Motors declined comment on the report.

Seeing Machines, which has earmarked the technology for a variety of industrial and automotive uses, says it can also enable gesture controls and be used as a security system, allowing the vehicle to be started only by authorized individuals who are authenticated through facial recognition.

GM may be the first to bring this type of tech to market, but it’s not the only automaker looking into it.

Earlier this year, Ford unveiled Project Mobii, which is focused more toward customizing the preferences of drivers and helping them interact with their cars through eye and hand movements. It also provides security through authentication and the ability to snap a photo of a potential intruder and send it to the car owner’s smartphone.

Volvo, meanwhile, is testing a system it calls Driver State Estimation that uses invisible infrared lights to identify drivers and track their eye movements.

Although much of the sensor technology used by these systems is readily available, the key to their success is the software that processes the information. The possibilities of what can be done with the data are almost endless.

An experiment conducted by French automaker Peugeot-Citroen and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland studied whether a system could be devised to determine if a driver is angry or upset and more likely to commit an act of road rage. The researchers said it showed promise, but the wide variety of ways people show emotion remains a hurdle to developing a universal algorithm.

The technology, of course, raises questions about personal security in light of the fact that many cars today are connected to the cloud through built-in or tethered cellular phone-based telematics, like GM's own OnStar. A 2003 federal lawsuit revealed that the FBI once tapped this type of system to monitor a conversation going on inside of a car, and it's possible that an on-board camera could be accessed through wireless network, as well. However, the court ruled that such actions are illegal, even if access granted with permission from the automaker, since the takeover deactivated the primary safety feature of the unidentified system without the driver's knowledge.

The Financial Times says Takata is under contract to deliver 500,000 facial recognition devices over the next three to five years. There’s no word on when or in what vehicles GM plans to introduce it.