Science Articles

Eye tracking in cars from next year

Wed, 3rd Aug 2016

Ben Deighton


Eye-tracking systems will be available in cars from next year thanks to an EU initiative to back loans to Europe’s high-tech small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

It means increasing autonomy for modern cars that are allowing drivers to take their hands off the wheel for longer and longer.

In June 2014, the European Commission, along with the European Investment Bank, announced the launch of InnovFin - EU Finance for innovators, a series of financial products that are projected to release up to EUR 48 billion of investment in innovative European firms by 2020.

One of those is the SME InnovFin Guarantee, which means that the EU will cover a proportion of losses if loans to high-tech firms go bad, encouraging banks to lend more to innovative companies.

One such company was Sweden’s Smart Eye, an eye-tracking software maker that had ambitions to sell its products to car manufacturers.

‘It was thanks to this guarantee loan from the European Union that it was possible for us to secure and start delivering on the first automotive contract last year,’ said the company’s founder Martin Krantz.

Krantz got the original idea for the technology following a morning phone call from his father back in 1999. His father had dreamt that there was a way for his wife, who had a painful shoulder, to move the computer cursor just by looking, and he asked his son if it was possible.

‘A few weeks afterwards I had made some calculations and thought about it and I said, “I think it is possible actually”.’ They went on to set the company up together later that year.

They started out making eye-tracking technology for research labs, but the SEK 8 million loan enabled Krantz to recruit engineers to work on embedding it into automotive systems.

It worked out so well that the company has grown by 50 % since the beginning of last year to 45 people, after securing two deals with European carmakers to supply them with eye-tracking technology.

‘Our software makes it possible to say if the driver is tired, if the driver is paying attention,’ he said, adding that the technology would be available in new cars in 2017.

Selected banks

The InnovFin SME Guarantee works through a series of selected lenders, mostly banks, around Europe, who give the loans out.

‘Thanks to the EU guarantee we have been able to increase the total budget dedicated to this programme and reach a total volume of EUR 100 million,’ explained Lola Merveille, from the European affairs department of Bpifrance, the bank that provides loans in France.

Germany-based ProCredit group hopes to offer EUR 250 million to innovative small companies in eastern and south-eastern Europe as a result of the EU facility. ProCredit has signed up to the InnovFin SME Guarantee for its bank operations in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania and Serbia.

The geographically spread group believes it is able to respond to the particular difficulties faced by companies in this part of Europe, such as problems enforcing contracts and unreliable supply chains.

‘Now that ProCredit is a full-fledged partner to the InnovFin programme, we can provide our clients with debt financing on more favourable terms, taking into account many of the impediments we jointly face,’ said Borislav Kostadinov, a member of the management board of ProCredit Holding.


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The seeds of disaster. Is this part of an EU program to reduce the population, or to make money for lawyers?

The article is utterly nonspecific. What does the eyetracking software (nothing new here - it's been around almost as long as the EU) do? Will the steering follow my gaze, and thus kill every attractive woman I pass, or ignore it, in which case what use is it?

No, it seems that it will tell the car if the driver is tired. I've just switched off that system in my new car. It decided I was tired if I changed lanes frequently, and thus insisted that I stop and rest after negotiating the Magic Roundabout in Swindon. It also uses a "stick shaker" to wobble the steering wheel if I change lanes slowly: disconcertingly indistinguishable from a faulty tyre, and almost certainly increasing tyre wear, and it seems to switch on at random. Yesterday I received a recall notice because it seems that the automatic headlight dipping system (which dips the headlights if it detects oncoming traffic (almost useful) and brightly lit or reflective house numbers (bloody nuisance) is prone to do its own thing from time to time and can only be reset by stopping and restarting the engine - just what you need when travelling in the outside lane of the M25.

Whilst I'm on my sopabox, the sat nav, mobile phone handsfree, radio and aircon are all very useful, but instead of switches they are all controlled from a single touch screen that attracts fingerprints and is thus unreadable in sunlight.

One day, the world will come to its senses and put the driver back in charge, with proper knobs and buttons.    alancalverd, Thu, 4th Aug 2016

We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. jeffreyH, Thu, 4th Aug 2016

Alan, you put these things so well! chris, Fri, 5th Aug 2016

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