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The Polish Science Voice
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From the Publisher
October 31, 2013   
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At three in the morning, the landscape around your car becomes strangely monotonous, and the road seems to be getting narrow. Your eyelids are getting heavy and you find it increasingly hard to keep your eyes wide open. Then you open them with a start, realizing with horror that you must have drifted off to sleep for a split second…

Many drivers have had such a blood-curdling experience at some point in their lives. Some did not survive it. Many drivers prefer to be accompanied by someone when driving to reduce the risk of nodding off at the wheel.

Sławomir Gruszczyński, a Polish researcher from the AGH University of Science and Technology in the southern city of Cracow, has found a way to prevent drivers from falling asleep. Instead of a human companion ready to keep an eye on you and help you fight fatigue when driving, he offers a system using radar technology that detects and monitors the way you blink your eyes when driving.

Based on that, the level of the driver’s fatigue is measured. If it is high, the system will notify the driver and warn him or her to stop the vehicle. The driver can be alerted by a voice message, a blinking light or another signal.

This electronic travel companion that never sleeps will be ready to hit the road with you after the last technical kinks are ironed out. According to Gruszczyński, the system will be reasonably priced at about zl.1,500.

While working on the project, Gruszczyński had to develop special algorithms to monitor the position and movements of the driver’s head and to monitor the driver’s heart rate, breathing and pupil movements. The research project ended in May. Gruszczyński has built a prototype and now plans to approach automakers, hoping to persuade them to apply the system in mass-produced vehicles.

Another guest of this issue of The Polish Science Voice, Prof. Zygmunt Kitowski from the Naval Academy in the northern city of Gdynia, managed a team of researchers who have developed an unmanned watercraft—known as an Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV)—that can be used to protect ports from attack, carry out rescue missions at sea and detect environmental hazards.

The first version of the watercraft was controlled via radio by an operator from a mobile command post. That initial version was subsequently enhanced to include a system for mission planning and autonomous control without the involvement of a human operator, Kitowski says.

The watercraft can be adapted to the needs of different users, both military and civilian, through the addition of specific modules. These include a remote-controlled machine gun, a depth charge launcher, and an unmanned underwater vehicle. Equipped with special sensors, the USV is capable of measuring the degree of radioactive, chemical and biological contamination of the marine environment.

“Such watercraft should be built in Poland rather than bought abroad because of the lower production, operation, maintenance and training costs as well as the possibility of adapting them to changing conditions,” says Kitowski.

Showcased at two trade fairs for military hardware, the watercraft attracted considerable interest among potential buyers abroad.
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