Mitsubishi's answer to driverless cars? Helping human drivers.

Mitsubishi has paved a new road for automated driving, with technology that alerts drivers when they start driving poorly. 

Yuya Shino/Reuters
A staff member of Mitsubishi Electric drives its self-driving concept car "EMIRAI3 xAUTO" using the hands-free function during a media preview in Kamakura, Japan, Oct. 14, 2015.

Cars could soon feature the ultimate backseat driver, an artificial intelligence technology that aims to make roadways safer by telling you when your mind is wandering. 

In doing so, the Japanese manufacturer Mitsubishi is taking autonomous vehicles in an entirely new direction, one that aims to improve the driver, Business Wire reports.  

"Not only does this smart automation offer more safety and the possibility of an enhanced experience for the de-stressed driver, but it can also reduce road congestion and benefit the environment," Matthew Beecham, an analyst for the automotive research agency QUBE, said of car automation generally in a news release. 

Mitsubishi calls the technology "deep learning," and it monitors the driver's behavior over time. The technology watches for patterns of normal, alert driving by gathering real-time data about the driver's steering, facial position, and even heart rate. When a driver turns unexpectedly or acts erratically, the system can detect it as the effect of distraction. This activates an alarm system, so the driver can address the problem promptly, if possible. 

That is the idea, anyway, and Mitsubishi plans to present the new technology at the Tokyo Motor Show Thursday. The company said in a news release it plans to begin selling cars that include it in 2019. 

Mitsubishi hits a large target with distracted driving. The 2013 count for deaths from distracted driving accidents was 3,154, according to US Department of Transportation data. That same year, distracted driving contributed to 10 percent of fatal crashes and 16 percent of all crashes. 

"Distracted driving kills, there is no excuse for it, and it must stop,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement about a campaign in April to raise awareness of laws against texting while driving

The distracted driving problem hits close to home for the Japanese carmaker, as sleepy drivers contributed to nearly 18 percent of crashes in Tokyo in 2014, and another 14 percent were caused by drivers whose minds were roaming, according to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.

Road deaths from distracted driving are seen as highly preventable, so the US Department of Transportation runs a website,, specifically dedicated to the issue. The website features resources and education for teen drivers, parents, teachers, and companies. While education about the possible fines and dangers of driving distracted doubtless persuades some, no technology has yet been employed specifically to prevent crashes. Seat belts and airbags, after all, protect people as the crashes are happening. 

The detection technology responds to a general interest in advanced driver assistance systems, which are expected to serve a $9 billion market by 2025, Mitsubishi said in a press release, citing research by Fuji Chimera Research Institute, Inc. Mitsubishi intends to continue developing the technology to use in fully-automated vehicles, so although Tesla is pushing the envelope, working with cutting-edge artificial intelligence to teach cars piece by piece how to drive themselves, Mitsubishi can employ this in the short-term. 

"It's an exciting time for engineers," Mr. Beecham said in a release. "The driving experience faces unprecedented change being wrought by these advanced new technologies."

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