Volvo said on Wednesday it will use cameras installed inside its vehicles to monitor driver behavior and intervene if the driver appears to be drunk or distracted. It's a risky move by an automaker, even one with a reputation for safety like Volvo, which could raise concerns among privacy advocates.
Volvo's in-car cameras will monitor eye movements to gauge driver distraction and / or intoxication. If a driver looks away for a period of time, such as at a smartphone, or fails to keep their hands on the steering wheel, a representative from Volvo's on-call assistance centers will call them to check in. Drivers who aren't watching the road, or even have their eyes closed, will be warned as well. If they don't respond, the car will slow and even stop. The system will roll-out to all Volvo cars by early 2020.
This follows Volvo's recent announcement that it will be limiting the top speed on all of its vehicles to 180 km/h (112 mph) in a bid to reduce traffic fatalities. Volvo is framing these new policies as key components in its Vision 2020 goal, in which no one is killed or seriously injured in a Volvo vehicle by 2020. Over the years, the company built its reputation on safety and quirky designs, and today's announcement is meant to underline that.
"When it comes to safety, our aim is to avoid accidents altogether rather than limit the impact when an accident is imminent and unavoidable," Henrik Green, senior vice president for research and development at Volvo Car Group, said in a statement. "In this case, cameras will monitor for behavior that may lead to serious injury or death."
The use of in-car cameras to monitor drivers is not completely unprecedented. Cadillac uses infrared cameras facing the driver to power its advanced driver assist system, Super Cruise. The camera tracks the driver's eye movements, allowing for a "hands-free" driving experience. If the driver's attention wanders, Super Cruise uses an escalating series of audible and vibrating alerts to ensure the driver keeps their eyes on the road.
As cameras proliferate in the name of safety, there's a real chance they can be misused to invade privacy. At an event in Sweden Wednesday, the company preemptively dismissed this criticism by likening it to early objection to seatbelt laws.
Automakers are already collecting lots of information from your car today, but mostly for vehicle analytics. GM has said that the camera in its Cadillac cars isn't recording anything; it's just a buffered video feed to make sure Super Cruise works as it should.
Volvo didn't respond to questions about access to the vehicle's camera, but in a statement clarified that the exact technical setup of the camera has yet to be decided.
"With the cameras, Volvo aims to collect data only in the ambition to make its cars safer and only the data that is required for the systems," a spokesperson said in an email. "The cameras will not record video and no data will be gathered without the user's consent. Exact technical setup is yet to be determined."