The handoff between driver and autonomous driving systems is a crucial, complicated, and critical task that self-driving cars will have to conquer. Automotive supplier Continental developed a possible solution, which it announced last month.

While exterior cameras and sensors are constantly monitoring the outside world, Continental's system also watches the driver. The internal camera, when paired with software, can tell whether the driver is capable of taking over manual control before handing control of the car back to the driver.

“Thanks to the new camera system, vehicle and driver are constantly aware of one another. Ultimately, this comes down to trust. The human can rest assured that the technology will not abruptly hand back responsibility without warning, but that this will take place according to clear and comprehensible criteria,” Georg Binder, head of strategy and planning for advanced driver assistance systems at Continental, said in a statement.

Trust has been an ongoing theme in the industry's question to make self-driving vehicles mainstream. Often, the focus is on whether outsiders (such as pedestrians and the drivers of non-autonomous vehicles) feel comfortable with self-driving cars on roads and highways. Continental is turning inside the car; can the driver trust that the car won't spring control back without warning?

The process of handing control of a vehicle from the machine to human operator during semi-autonomous operation is handled differently from automaker to automaker. Some manufacturers, such as Tesla, have been scrutenized by regulators after crashes that drivers ignored warnings from on-board systems to retake manual control of their vehicles.

By monitoring occupant condition and position and communicating those factors to other systems, the interior camera in Continental's system can also protect drivers and passengers before a crash. Camera data could allow safety modules to fine-tune the deployment of air bags or pre-tensioning of seat belts, for example, if an unavoidable crash is imminent.