NASA Lab Studies Sleepiness and Use of Automated Systems

Drowsy driving accounts for a large proportion of car crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. So, you might think self-driving cars would fix that. After all, computers just don’t get sleepy.

But today’s vehicles are only partially automated, requiring the human driver to stay alert, monitor the road, and take over at a moment’s notice. A new study conducted by the Fatigue Countermeasures Lab at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley suggests this passive role can leave drivers more susceptible to sleepiness – especially when they’re sleep deprived.

The research was carried out to help understand how humans interact with autonomous systems, such as those used in aircraft and in spaceflight systems. The findings will contribute to the agency’s research around the safe introduction of automation in aviation and the growing complexity of advanced systems. They also suggest drowsy drivers may be an important consideration for safe introduction of self-driving features in cars.