A group of students at Eden Prairie High School are using a keen interest in technology to develop a device that could warn drivers when they are distracted while driving.
The device – which has not yet been named – would use a small computer connected to a tiny camera mounted on the rear view mirror. The camera would focus on the pupils to determine where the driver is looking. If it detects attention has shifted to a phone or other object, a light flashes to remind drivers to focus on their task.
“We want to do something to reduce distracted driving,” said Yash Dagade, one of a dozen students from the school’s Distraction-free Life Club working on the invention.
In Minnesota, distracted driving is a leading contributor to crashes resulting in serious injury or death, according to the state Department of Public Safety’s Office of Traffic Safety. As of June 30, nine motorists have died this year in crashes in which distraction was a factor, the agency said.
Additionally, driver distraction is a factor in 9% of all crashes, including those resulting in property damage.
Rahul Chimata, another student who is spending the summer holidays working on the project, said the idea is to get people to “realize the danger that distracted driving puts you at risk”.
The students plan to deploy a prototype of their invention during Saturday’s Raksha 5K Run/Walk and Vigil at Purgatory Creek Recreation Area in Eden Prairie.
The event, now in its 15th year, is the brainchild of Vijay Dixit, the club’s advisor. He has been on a crusade to end distracted driving since 2007, when his 19-year-old daughter, Shreya, was killed in a distracted driving accident. She was a passenger in a car that left Interstate 94 and hit a bridge in Wisconsin.
The name of the event comes from the Indian festival Raksha Bandhan which commemorates an age-old tradition in which a sister ties a ceremonial band around her brother’s wrist and prays for his protection and safety. For motorists, Dixit said, Raksha is a bond between them to promise distraction-free driving to protect each other and the community.
Although grief over her daughter’s death lingers, Dixit said the students’ invention is helping her heal.
“I’m the happiest I’ve been,” he said.
A final version of the device may not be ready until November, but students are already considering future improvements. These include pairing the device with an app that could show how long a driver has been distracted and a GPS component that, over time, could identify specific places where a motorist is distracted.
But there’s a more immediate goal: to get the low-cost device into the hands of anyone who wants it.
“Not everyone can afford $2,000 for life-saving technology,” said student developer Aedin Yu.