WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A Purdue University-affiliated startup is developing technology aimed at preventing drowsy driving. West Lafayette-based Vastra Inc. says TriSense is a next-generation driver safety system that can monitor a driver's health while at the wheel. Co-founder Harsh Somani, who also serves as president and chief executive officer of Vastra, says the idea came after a friend was involved in a serious car accident which was caused by the driver falling asleep at the wheel during a long drive.

Somani says he had already been researching smart fabrics while studying as an undergrad at Purdue. TriSense uses a fabric steering wheel cover that Somani says can capture a driver's health information, hand placement and different driving behaviors without being invasive like a camera system. The cover is connected to software either in the form of a phone application or a desktop dashboard, which can send off an alert if drowsiness or fatigue is detected.

"You can monitor either your loved ones, your guardians or from a commercial perspective, if you have say a fleet of 10-20 trucks and you want to monitor the health of the truck drivers as they're performing their operations, the dispatcher can go through that information in real time," Somani told Inside INdiana Business. "

Purdue cites figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which says more than 4,000 people were killed between 2013 and 2017 in crashes that involved drowsy driving.

Somani says Vastra is currently prototyping and doing internal testing of the system.

"We have been going through different accelerators, different competitions to bootstrap that development. Right now, we are at the second version of our prototype and at the same time, we are reaching out to trucking companies, fleet operators to kind of get a sense of the complexity of the problem. How often do they face it? Is it a big enough problem for them that they're willing to pay for a solution?"

Somani says there is a long-term vision to work with auto manufacturers to integrate the TriSense system into new vehicles as technology becomes an increasingly important aspect in vehicles. He says there is also the potential to expand into other verticals, such as apparel.

"We have been reached by different athletic departments in universities where, in a sport where (athletes) are not allowed to wear any wearable (technology), if they could use any sort of compression pants or shirts that can monitor their health without something like an Apple Watch. So that's a big market for us in the future, as well as things like home automation or furniture." 

Somani estimates Vastra is a few months away from making TriSense market ready.