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Optalert eyewear detects drowsiness

By Rhiannon Riches


Producer of Australian-made drowsiness detection eyewear products, Optalert, is reinforcing its partnership with Melbourne-based Occhio Eyewear, which fits Optalert glasses with prescription lenses.

Occhio employs an optometrist to conduct eye examinations on mining sites when required, including in Kalgoorlie, the Pilbara, and Mackay in Queensland.

With Optalert’s glasses being increasingly adopted by truck drivers in the mining and road transportation industries to reduce road accidents caused by fatigue and drowsiness, a business opportunity developed.

Occhio director Andrew O’Hanlon said he was approached by Optalert about 10 years ago at a trade show when he was exhibiting Occhio’s onsite testing capabilities.

‘Optalert provides the glasses and if a driver requires prescription lenses, they send the prescription to us, and we make and fit the lens,’ Mr O’Hanlon said. ‘Occasionally, Occhio might identify a driver during an onsite eye test who needs a prescription.’

He said they can fit prescription lenses using one of two methods, depending on the prescription and pupil distance.

‘For a five-base curve, we fit the prescription lens into an adaptor that fits onto the front of the glasses, or we use the existing wrap shield, and laser cut the plastic lens to remove it, and fit the prescription lens in using digital free-form technology,’ he said.

Optalert provides a letter for a truck driver to present to their optometrist. The letter states that Optalert has explained to the driver that an optometrist is the only person qualified to test their eyes and adjust the prescription of their ‘usual’ lenses to compensate for the distance between their eyes and the Optalert glasses.

‘We are currently working on a new design for Optalert prescription eyewear,’ Mr O’Hanlon said. ‘We’re redesigning the wrap-around frames. The problem is that digital lenses are more expensive to fit,’ he said.

In late 2013, Optalert and Occhio conducted a routine eyesight test of drivers at a client’s site and found that almost 75 per cent needed either upgraded prescriptions or glasses prescribed for the first time.

Optalert CEO Scott Coles said that the test detected a large number who were well overdue for their optical examinations and therefore had been driving on Australian roads with impaired vision.

Mr O’Hanlon said the onsite eye testing found that of the 180 drivers tested, more than half needed their prescription upgraded and 20 per cent required glasses for the first time.

‘We found less than 25 per cent didn’t need any prescription change, which means they were the only drivers on the road with what we would consider to be good vision,’ he said.

Optalert’s glasses were the brainchild of sleep specialist Dr Murray Johns from Melbourne. They measure the velocity of the wearer’s eyelid 500 times a second using a tiny invisible LED built into the frame of the glasses.

A lightweight USB cable connects the glasses to either a tablet or smartphone-sized touch screen to record the wearer’s eyelid data.

The processing software component, known as the Eagle, then displays on the tablet or smartphone the wearer’s drowsiness levels as low, medium or high, using the Johns Drowsiness Score (JDS). Those data are also monitored in real time, for example, by staff on-site in mining company headquarters.

The tablet system is known as The Eagle Industrial and the smartphone system is known as The Eagle Portable.

The Eagle system emits an auditory alarm to indicate when the drowsiness score is reaching high risk levels, letting the driver and those monitoring a fleet of trucks or buses know when a driver is showing signs of drowsiness.

A wireless design using Bluetooth technology is being manufactured, which will transmit data using Wi-Fi, removing the need for cable connectivity.

Dr Andrew Tucker is Optalert’s general manager of scientific research. He said the company had been conducting collaborative research and development for 20 years, with the most recent study completed by researchers at Harvard University.

‘Harvard researchers have shown Optalert to be the strongest predictor of drowsiness and an effective tool for monitoring changes in alertness and performance,’ Dr Tucker said.

Harvard researchers monitored 29 adults who were wearing Optalert glasses, and completing bi-hourly neurobehavioural tests.*

‘Our findings indicate this real-time objective drowsiness monitoring system is an effective tool for monitoring changes in alertness and performance along the alert-drowsy continuum in a controlled laboratory setting,’ the authors said.

In addition to companies in mining and road transport industries using Optalert, the system is also in use by military forces and in aviation, and coach and bus travel.

Dr Tucker said the Australian Department of Defence had conducted a field-based evaluation of Optalert. The ADF’s three-month trial in 2012 assessed the fatigue level of five personnel and evaluated the effectiveness of the Optalert system as a suitable tool for risk management.

A report of the trial said it demonstrated that the Optalert monitoring system contributed to a reduction in drowsiness and improved driver performance ratings.

Dr Tucker has published two White Papers, ‘Measuring drowsiness with the JDS’ and ‘In the blink of an eye’, which give an overview of what Optalert measures, how it is measured, and how it can be used in safety critical environments.


*Assessment of drowsiness based on ocular parameters detected by infra-red reflectance oculography. J Clin Sleep Med 2013: 9: 9: 907-920.

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Acknowledgement of Country

In the spirit of reconciliation Optometry Australia acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.