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UI employee wins $70,000 grant to study ways to reduce fatigue-related traffic accidents

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A University of Iowa employee has won a $70,000 grant from NASA to study ways to use new technology to reduce the number of highway accidents and deaths caused by driver fatigue.

Jeffrey Bishop, an assistive technology specialist at the UI, has been awarded a Small Business Innovation Research grant from NASA to conduct a feasibility study to see if new microchip video technology can be used to sense when drivers are falling asleep at the wheel.

The technology could also be used in aviation to sense when pilots are getting drowsy.

Bishop's proposal, developed with the help of the Small Business Development Center at the UI College of Business Administration, was one of 335 selected from 2,665 proposals nationwide. Bishop founded a small business, Future of Technology and Health, in 1997 to research and develop technology designed to improve safety in vehicles.

Bishop says he began working on the technology after a friend's neck was broken in an accident. The driver fell asleep at the wheel, drove off the road, and collided with an obstacle.

"Unfortunately, this type of accident is quite common," Bishop says. "Our goal is to reduce transportation fatalities and injuries through innovative technology."

According to the 1996 Traffic Safety Factbook from the U.S. Department of Transportation, 41,907 people died in traffic accidents in the United States in 1996, and more than 3.5 million people were injured.

Bishop's project will study whether tiny, microchip-based video cameras mounted in cars can sense when drivers are getting drowsy by detecting changes in the rate, pattern, and duration of blinking and other changes in the eyes of drivers.

The NASA grant requires the feasibility study to be completed within six months. If NASA approves the study, Bishop would be eligible for a two-year grant of up to $600,000.