More than 3,000 people die every day because of traffic accidents, and that number is on the rise. The problem's so bad that the World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, car accidents will be the third leading cause of disease or injury. But what if computer software could help prevent many of them by evaluating a driver's behind-the-wheel behavior and educating her about it?
That's the goal of Hermes, a new technology designed by four college students—Matthew Padden, James McNamara, Calum Cawley, and Aine Conaghan—from Ireland's Institute of Technology Sligo. They began developing the software in September 2010, and in July they headed to New York City for Microsoft's Imagine Cup, a technology competition for socially conscious students. They beat out 350,000 other entrants from 184 countries for the top prize. We chatted with the team about how the Hermes software works and how schools can get more students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
GOOD: So how exactly does the software work?
The Hermes system combines embedded and cloud technologies.We have developed a device that you plug into the car. This device constantly monitors several parameters about a driver's behavior and evaluates it in real time, giving instant feedback to the driver as well as uploading to the cloud for later analysis. In addition to this, the device is also able to warn the driver if they are approaching a dangerous section of road. This data is then visualized through the web and phone apps to educate the driver and give peace of mind to the vehicle owner.
The driver's app is to make them aware of their driving behavior after a journey has been completed. The owner's phone app allows them to see any alerts generated by the system. So let's say the driver was driving erratically or unplugged the device, an alert would be instantly sent to the owner and they could see on the app what happened and where it happened.
GOOD: Do you have investors interested in bringing it to market?
Hermes team: With the mass of publicity, we have had interest, especially from car insurance companies. At the permission of the driver, insurers can view the data, and with this can offer cheaper driver insurance premiums based on driving behavior. Quite simply, the safer you drive the cheaper your car insurance will be. We hope to bring it to market in the near future.
GOOD: What do you think schools and governments should be doing to get more students interested in STEM?
Hermes team: These skills need to be made more tangible. It would be useful if the math that students are taught in schools may be applied to the real world. In the field of computer science, there is not enough lab work where tangible real world insight into the development of either software or hardware solutions. Computer science has one massive asset when it comes to creating interest in learning amongst young students—game development. This can be used as a tool to teach both through the playing of a game and through the creation of games.
The schools themselves need to be informed through network meetings, seminars, or training events where they can be given insight regarding the future of STEM. Unfortunately some remain unaware of the significance STEM is going to have in bringing countries out of the recession and the scale of employment opportunities for the future.
The minority of women involved in STEM needs to change. Perhaps schools and governments could start profiling women already involved in STEM through marketing campaigns in an effort to empower and inspire women to work in this area.
GOOD: What's been the reaction from your friends, family and teachers since your Imagine Cup win?
Hermes team: Everyone is extremely proud of the team and have given tremendous support. The country is delighted to be hearing positive news. There were parties when we won, homecomings, receptions hosted by our college and even now people are still congratulating us.
Click here for more coverage of the impressive student projects from the 2011 Imagine Cup.
photo via IT Sligo