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NASA’s Fatigue Countermeasures Laboratory Publishes Report on the Risks of Sleepiness and Automated Driving Systems

Researchers from NASA’s Fatigue Countermeasures Laboratory have published a scientific report detailing the potential risks arising from sleepiness and the use of automated (self-driving) vehicles. The report, published in the Scientific Reports journal on September 14, 2021, reveals some surprising and often paradoxical findings about the “safety” of automated driving in a largely sleep-deprived world.

The report, titled “Supervision of a self-driving vehicle unmasks latent sleepiness relative to manually controlled driving”, looks into the potential for automated vehicles to uncover latent sleepiness in drivers, particularly those who are already sleep-deprived. Although these “self-driving” capabilities are purported to reduce accident risk, NASA researchers instead found that study participants felt more fatigued, had slower reaction times and showed substantial modifications in brain synchronization during and after an autonomous drive as opposed to a manual drive of the same duration. This is largely due to the fact that the self-driving systems allow drivers to completely disengage from the active operation of a vehicle and all the stimuli that accompanies that task.

This research will provide NASA with a better understanding of the potential risks associated with sleepiness during autonomous flights and space missions. In light of the upcoming Artemis lunar missions and NASA’s Moon to Mars initiative, the study findings will help inform NASA procedures and policies, particularly the need to schedule enough time for pilots and astronauts to sleep. Indeed, until fully autonomous vehicles become a reality, this study shows that partially autonomous systems can actually present unforeseen risks and dangers, especially for the sleep-deprived.

For more information on this report, please click here.

Image of a Fatigue Countermeasures Laboratory research subject participating in a self-driving car fatigue study
Fatigue Countermeasures Laboratory research subject participating in a study on automated vehicles

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Curator: Phil So
NASA Official: Erin Flynn-Evans
Last Updated: September 15, 2021