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Texting & Driving? Smile for the Camera!

By: Tierney Brannigan January 10, 2017
Is Big Brother watching? New software may be able to track drivers texting on the road.

Let’s say you’re driving and expecting an important text message. Then, you hear that familiar sound—your cell phone’s alerting you to a new text. Now, we all know about the dangers of distracted driving, but you’re sitting at a red light, and a quick scan of your surroundings indicates there aren’t any police around. What could be the harm in checking?

For starters, in most states it’s explicitly against the law to text and drive, with consequences ranging from a hefty fine to jail time if you hurt someone as a result of the distraction. But beyond that, a new technology has just been released, giving security cameras the ability to recognize when a person is texting and driving.

Movidius, a company specializing in developing intelligence for visual technologies, recently paired up with the Chinese company, Hikvision—the largest manufacturer of security cameras in the world. Together, the companies invented a camera with visual recognition software unlike any other. The prototypes for the new security cameras were revealed in the fall of 2016 at the China International Exhibition for Public Safety.

In a video press release, Remi El-Ouazzane, Chief Executive Officer at Movidius, describes the new cameras as having “deep neural networks [that] allow computers to see the world much more like humans do.”

The Movidius and Hikvision security cameras’ recognition software will allow them to identify cars and people with an accuracy rate much higher than the traffic cameras currently in use.

The software enables the cameras to detect abnormalities in real time, identifying the slightest departures from what is considered normal (and legal). This means if a camera observes you looking down at a phone with your hands off of the steering wheel, it will immediately recognize that you’re texting and driving. With the additional aid of facial recognition software, you won’t be able to get away with sending that text so easily.

Now, you may be wondering how the new cameras will be able to discern between someone who’s responding to a text message and someone who’s simply looking down. In its infant years, Hikvision and Movidius’ security camera will likely transmit anomalous data back to a human operator, who can make the final call on whether or not the driver is doing something illegal. However, there is as yet no word on what the companies’ response would be in the event that the camera—or human operator—misinterprets someone’s actions behind the wheel.

Though this may seem like something straight out of a George Orwell novel, Hikvision and Movidius’ new security cameras may end up saving lives. With the knowledge that you are indeed being monitored in real time, you might be less inclined to text and drive. This means fewer car accidents and fatalities as a result of fewer distracted drivers on the road.

“Advances in artificial intelligence are revolutionizing the way we think about personal and public security,” El-Ouazzane said. “We’re delighted to partner with Hikvision to deploy smarter camera networks and contribute to creating safer communities.”

Additionally, the software will be useful in recognizing and retrieving stolen vehicles and missing persons. Our current technology is limited to scanning license plates, and relies heavily on secondary human observation. The security cameras developed by Hikvision and Movidius will be able identify missing vehicles and people by referencing their unique physical traits.

“Police can identify cars, even if the license plates have been removed,” El-Ouazzane stated in the video press release.

So, you’re still sitting at that red light, and notice the traffic camera staring at you from across the intersection. Now is that text really important enough to answer while you’re behind-the-wheel?

An easy solution—pull over if you absolutely need to respond. Otherwise, keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. Meanwhile, Hikvision and Movidius will be keeping an eye on you.

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