A small infrared camera is above the infotainment system of the top trim of the redesigned 2019 Subaru Forester.
Assuming drivers are behaving, alert and operating distraction-free, they likely won't even notice it. But it will be there watching them, all the same.
That's the heart of what Subaru calls DriverFocus, a driver monitoring system that uses facial recognition software to identify signs of distraction and fatigue. The technology represents a field that is expected to explode in the coming years, with automated safety systems watching vehicle occupants to protect them from their own mistakes and failings.
In the Forester, once the camera has scanned the driver's face, the system keeps track of his or her eyes. If the driver gazes into space or otherwise looks away from the road for two to three seconds while the vehicle is moving, the system emits audible and visual alerts to remind the motorist to focus on the road.
Mitsubishi Electric is the supplier behind DriverFocus, and the Forester is the first production vehicle to use its version of the technology.
Facial recognition software is beginning to flow into more aspects of daily life, such as Face ID on newer iPhones. But a wide spectrum of entities from social media platforms to airlines and even the Transportation Security Administration are also testing the technology.
Subaru is not alone in monitoring drivers.
Cadillac's Super Cruise semi-autonomous highway driving system on high-end trims of the 2018 CT6 has an infrared camera system that monitors driver alertness. Eventually, General Motors plans to expand Super Cruise to all of its vehicles in the U.S.
BMW's redesigned 2019 X5 crossover uses facial recognition technology in the form of a camera mounted in the instrument cluster, which checks to see that the driver's eyes are open and facing the road. BMW's driver-facing, camera-assisted , part of a $1,700 package, will be available in December. The technology will gradually roll out across BMW's lineup.