AutoFan - Automated Control of Air Flow

Avoiding fatigue by automatically controlling the direction of a fan's air flow using face and eye blink detection.

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AutoFan is a prototype for controlling the direction of air flow of a fan based on computer vision in order to avoid fatigue during long distance car drives. It uses a low-cost camera (e.g. a webcam), a Raspberry Pi 2, a face recognition algorithm and two servo motors controlling the lamellae of a custom-made fan. By inferring the position of a face from the camera images the servo motor angles are adjusted to point the airflow into (or away) from the face. By measuring eye blink frequency the system automatically points the air flow into the direction of the driver's face if the driver has been detected to be tired.

Something that has bothered me for quite a while is manually adjusting the lamellae of the fans in my car to point the air flow into the direction of my face. Especially during long distance drives having a constant (A/C-controlled) air flow blowing into the face helps to concentrate and not to become tired. Some studies (e.g. this one) could show that an increased eye blink ratio correlates with drowsiness. The overall goal of this project is to have a system in my car which detects whether the driver is tired based on eye blink frequency and then point the air flow of the fans into the direction of the face.

AutoFan is a device which automates this task using machine vision. By using a face detection algorithm the relative position of the head in front of the camera is inferred. The driver's level of drowsiness is detected by measuring eye blink frequency. This information is then used to control the lamellae of a fan in order to dynamically point the air flow to the face.

The overall goal is to have a working prototype before I start to tinker with the fans and electronics in my car. For this purpose I have designed a servo-controlled fan using FreeCad. The lamellae of the fan are controlled by a Raspberry Pi 2, which also takes care of the algorithms for face detection, the estimation of the relative position of the head and eye blink detection. The software framework is written in Python making use of libraries such as OpenCV (e.g. by using a haar-cascade classifier for face detection) or multiprocessing (e.g. for making efficient use of the Raspberry's four CPU cores).

All design files and the corresponding code can be found in my GitHub repository.

Detailed project description:

  1. The Mechanical Prototype
  2. Controlling the Servos
  3. Correcting for Lens Distortions
  4. Face Detection using a Haar Cascade Classifier
  5. Solving the Math: Computing the Servo Angles
  6. ...

Please note: As this is an ongoing project, I will update this text once certain components of the project are finished...

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

  • 1 × Raspberry Pi 2
  • 1 × USB Webcam (Logitech C200)
  • 2 × Micro Servo (Hextronik HXT900 1.6kg)
  • 1 × 90mm PC Case Fan (Arctic F9)
  • 1 × 5V 600mA DC Power Outlet Power supply for the servos

View all 10 components

  • Solving the Math: Computing the Servo Angles

    hanno08/15/2016 at 08:23 0 comments

    After the pixel position and size of a face in the camera image has been detected, the horizontal and vertical servo motor angles can be computed in order to point the air flow into the direction of the face. The geometric relationships between the camera C, the fan L and the face F can be drawn (either for top or side view) in the following way:

    As can be seen the angle α represents the servo motor angle for pointing either the horizontal or

    vertical air flow (depending on looking from either the top or the side) into the direction of the face. By exploiting the two additional triangles drawn in red and blue, one can apply some simple trigonometric computations to derive the servo motor angle α.

    Computing the distance to the face (c1)

    In order to compute the distance to the face c1 in a camera image one first needs to determine the focal length F of the camera.

    Determining the focal length F of the camera

    Assuming a pinhole camera model, the focal length F can be obtained by recording an object with a known width W with a distance D with the camera. After determining the apparent width of the object in pixels P, one can compute the perceived focal length F of the camera according to the following formula:

    E.g. if we place a ball with a diameter/width W=10 cm and a distance D=100 cm in front of our camera and measure an apparent width of the ball in pixels P=20, then the focal length of our camera is:

    Please note: As the horizontal and vertical focal lengths of the camera f_x and f_y are already contained in the camera matrix obtain from using OpenCVs camera calibration tool, one can simply use them instead of performing the calibration procedure outlined above.

    After having obtained the focal length F the distance to the face c1 can be computed using triangle similiarity:

    Finding the distance to a face c1 using triangle similarity

    Assuming we have found the focal length F of our camera in the previous step, we can now compute the distance c1 to an object (e.g. a face) with a known width W using the so-called triangle similarity:

    As an example, I will assume the average width of a face is W=14 cm. If a face has been detected in the camera image and and the apparent width of the face in pixels is P=25, the distance to the face can be computed by taking the focal length F of the camera into account:

    Hence, the distance c1 to the face is 112 cm.

    Determining the distance of the face from the center optical axis (a1)

    After having determined c1 the distance of the face from the center optical axis a1 of the camera can be computed. Assuming an average width of a face W in cm, the width in pixel of the face detected in the camera image P and the position of the center of our face in pixel C, one can compute a1 according to the following formula:

    where i represents the horizontal (or respectively vertical) resolution of the camera image in pixels. w corresponds to the width of the bounding box surrounding the face in pixels obtained from the face recognition algorithm.

    Determining the servo motor angle α

    After having determined c1 and a1 in the red triangle the servo angle α can be derived from simple Pythagorean equations. The corresponding formulas for determining the horizontal servo angle are shown below:

    After having calculated the lengths a2, b2 and c2 of the blue triangle the servo motor angle α can now be determined by the following formula:

    The FaceToPosition Class

    The calculations described above are implemented in the FaceToPosition class. Once instanced the corresponding object takes the width of the face, the position of the bounding box around the face and the focal lengths of the camera lens into account in order to estimate the position of the face relative to the camera and computes the relative servo angles for the horizontal and vertical lamellae of the fan accordingly. The following video shows the code in action:

    The code is available via my GitHub repository.

  • Face Detection using a Haar Cascade Classifier

    hanno07/14/2016 at 15:20 1 comment

    After correction for lens distortions in the camera images, I apply a face detection algorithm on each camera image to obtain the apparent pixel position as well as the apparent pixel width and height of a face in front of the camera. For this purpose I make use of a set of haar-like features trained to match certain features of image recordings of frontal faces. I then use a classifier which tries to match the features contained in the haar feature database with the camera images in order to detect a face (see Viola-Jones object detection). It is notable, that although training a set of haar-filters of facial features is in principle possible (given a large enough database with images of faces), in the scope of this project I use a bank of pre-trained haar-like features that already comes with OpenCV.

    Detecting facial features using haar-like features

    Haar-like features can be defined as the difference of the sum of pixels of areas inside a rectangle, which can be at any position and scale within the original image. Hence, by trying to match each feature (at different scales) in the database with different positions in the original image the existence or absence of certain characteristics at the image position can be obtained. These characteristics can be for example edges or changes in textures. Hence, when applying a set of haar-like features pre-trained to match certain characteristics of facial features, the correlation by which a certain feature matches an image feature can tell something about the existence or non-existence of certain facial characteristics at a certain position. As an example, in the following figure a haar-like feature that looks similar to the bridge of the nose is applied onto a face (image taken from Wikipedia):

    In order to detect a face using haar-like facial features one can use a cascade classifier. Explaining the inner workings of the cascade classifier used here is out of the scope of this project update. However, this video by Adam Harvey gives quite an intuitive impression of how it works:

    OpenCV Face Detection: Visualized from Adam Harvey on Vimeo.

    Face detection using haar-like features using a cascade classifier can be implemented in OpenCV in the following way:

    import cv2
    from matplotlib import pyplot as plt
    # Initialize cascade classifier with pre-trained haar-like facial features
    classifier = cv2.CascadeClassifier("haarcascade_frontalface_alt2.xml")
    # Read an example image
    image = cv2.imread("images/merkel_small.jpg")
    # Convert image to grayscale
    gray = cv2.cvtColor(image, cv2.COLOR_BGR2GRAY)
    # Detect faces in the image
    face = classifier.detectMultiScale(
        minSize=(30, 30),
        flags = ( +
    # Draw a rectangle around the faces
    for (x, y, w, h) in face:
        cv2.rectangle(gray, (x, y), (x+w, y+h), (0, 255, 0), 2)
    # Display image
    plt.imshow(gray, 'gray')

    Here I first initialize a cascade classifier object with a pre-trained database of haar-like facial features (haarcascade_frontalface_alt2.xml) using OpenCVs CascadeClassifier class. The cascade classfier can then be used to detect facial features in an example image using its detectMultiscale method. The method takes the arguments scaleFactor, minNeighbours and minSize as an input.

    The argument scaleFactor determines the factor by which the detection window of the classifier is scaled down per detection pass (see video above). A factor of 1.1 corresponds to an increase of 10%. Hence, increasing the scale factor increases performance, as the number of detection passes is reduced. However, as a consequence the reliability by which a face is detected is reduced.

    The argument minNeighbor determines the minimum number of neighboring facial features that need to be present to indicate the detection of a face by the classifier. Decreasing the...

    Read more »

  • Correcting for Lens Distortions

    hanno07/12/2016 at 11:41 3 comments

    Certain types of camera lenses (such as in the webcam used in this project) introduce distortion characteristics to the images such that objects along the optical axis of the lens occupy disproportionately large areas of the image. Objects near the periphery occupy a smaller area of the image. The following figure illustrates this effect:

    This so-called barrel distortion results in the fact that the representation of distance relations in the real world is not the same as in the camera image -- i.e. distance relations in the camera image are non-linear.

    However, in this project, linear distance relations are required to estimate the servo motor angles from the camera images. Hence, lens distortions have to be corrected by remapping the camera images to a rectilinear representation. This procedure is also called unwarping. To correct for lens distortions in the camera images I made use of OpenCV's camera calibration tool.

    Estimation of lens parameters using OpenCV

    For unwarping images OpenCV takes the radial and the tangential distortion factors into account. Radial distortion is pretty much what leads to the barrel or fisheye effect described above. Whereas, tangential distortion describes the decentering of the optical axis of the lens in accordance to the image plane.

    To correct for radial distortion the following formulas can be used:

    So a pixel position (x, y) in the original image will be remapped to the pixel position (x_{corrected}, y_{corrected}) in the new image.

    Tangential distortion can be corrected via the formulas:

    Hence we have five distortion parameters which in OpenCV are presented as one row matrix with five columns:

    For the unit conversion OpenCV uses the following formula:

    The parameters are f_x and f_y (camera focal lengths) and (c_x, c_y) which are the optical centers expressed in pixels coordinates. The matrix containing these four parameters is referred to as the camera matrix.

    The camera matrix as well as the vector containing the distortion coefficients can be obtained by using OpenCVs camera calibration toolbox. OpenCV determines the constants in these two matrices by performing basic geometrical equations on several camera snapshots of calibration objects. For calibration I used snapshots of a black-white chessboard pattern with known dimensions taken with my webcam:

    To obtain the camera matrix and the distortion coefficients I used the script which comes with OpenCV (see 'samples' folder). The script is basically a wrapper around OpenCVs camera calibration functionality and takes several snapshots from the calibration object as an input. After having run the script by issuing the following command in a shell
    python "calibration_samples/image_*.jpg"
    the calibration parameters for our camera, namely the root-mean-square error (RMS) of our parameter estimation, the camera matrix and the distortion coefficients can be obtained:
    RMS: 0.171988082483
    camera matrix:
    [[ 611.18384754    0.          515.31108992]
     [   0.          611.06728767  402.07541332]
     [   0.            0.            1.        ]]
    distortion coefficients:  [-0.36824145  0.2848545   0.00079123  0.00064924 -0.16345661]

    Unwarping the images

    To unwarp an image and hence correct for lens distortions I made use of the recently acquired parameters and OpenCVs remap function as shown in the example code below:

    import numpy as np
    import cv2
    from matplotlib import pyplot as plt
    # Define camera matrix K
    K = np.array([[673.9683892, 0., 343.68638231],
                  [0., 676.08466459, 245.31865398],
                  [0., 0., 1.]])
    # Define distortion coefficients d
    d = np.array([5.44787247e-02, 1.23043244e-01, -4.52559581e-04, 5.47011732e-03, -6.83110234e-01])
    # Read an example image and acquire its size
    img = cv2.imread("calibration_samples/2016-07-13-124020.jpg")
    h, w = img.shape[:2]
    # Generate new camera matrix from parameters
    newcameramatrix, roi = cv2.getOptimalNewCameraMatrix(K, d, (w,h), 0)
    # Generate look-up tables for remapping the camera image
    mapx, mapy = cv2.initUndistortRectifyMap(K,...
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  • Controlling the Servos

    hanno07/11/2016 at 20:03 0 comments

    Due to job and family obligations I was only able to work occasionally on the project. However, I finished the servo control via the Raspberry Pi:

    For controlling the servos via the Raspberry Pi I decided to use Richard Hirst's excellent ServoBlaster driver. After installation (requires Cython and Numpy) it creates a


    device file in the Linux file system, allowing the user to generate a PWM signal on one (or several) of the Raspberry Pi's GPIO pins. Controlling the servos is as easy as echoing the desired pin and pulse width to the driver:

    echo 3=120 > /dev/servoblaster
    In the example above a pulse width of 120ms is set on GPIO pin 3.


    Based on the device driver I wrote a Python class (see 'servo_control/ServoControl' on GitHub) in order to control the servos from within my software framework. As the Raspberry Pi 2 has four CPU cores and the face detection part is computationally quite demanding, I implemented the class to run as a multiprocessing subprocess. This allows to efficiently leverage the multiple CPU cores on the Raspberry Pi 2 by spawning different tasks (e.g. face detection, servo control,...) on the different cores. In order to exchange data between the different processes I decided to use Sturla Molden's sharedmem-numpy library. Python's multiprocessing library allows for sharing memory between processes using either Values or Arrays. However, as I would like to pass camera images stored as Numpy arrays between the processes later on, using sharedmem-numpy currently seems to be the way to go. Although the author states that the library is not functional on Linux and Mac it seems to work quite well on the Raspberry Pi running Raspbian Jessie. However, I had to write a small patch to make things

    work (can be found in the project's GitHub repo).

    Servo calibration

    In order to set the servo motors to a specific angle, the angle has to be remapped to a corresponding pulse width. By measuring the angle for the horizontal and vertical lamellae at different pulse widths using a triangle ruler, I found that the transfer function is almost linear:

    Hence, the transfer function for remapping a specific servo motor angle α to a specific pulse width p can be estimated by fitting a simple linear regression to the dataset

    where m is the slope and b the intercept at the y-axis. I used LibreOffice Calc to do so (see calibration.ods in GitHub repo).

    Low-pass filtering of input values

    The speed of servo movement is controlled by stepwise incrementing or decrementing the pulse width of the servos at a defined frequency (currently 100Hz) until a desired angle has been reached. To smoothen overall servo movement and to avoid possible problems with jittery input signals, I implemented a temporal low-pass filter in between the computation of input angles and output pulse width. I will see how this works out when face detection is implemented. So, next step will be to hook up a webcam and get face detection running using OpenCV...

  • The Mechanical Prototype

    hanno06/26/2016 at 11:21 0 comments

    Having designed the mechanical prototype using FreeCad, I finished building and assembling the hardware during the last two days. I have milled the fan's casing, servo parts and the lamellae from birch plywood using my CNC router. The bearings for holding the lamellae in place were milled from POM (Acetal). All parts are available via my GitHub account. Although my first intention was to build the whole device from acrylic glass I found it much cheaper and more convenient to build the first prototype from wood. After cutting the glass fiber rods I assembled everything using (a lot of) superglue:

    Front of mechanical hardware assembled

    As can be seen from the image above and the screenshot below, the mechanical setup is really simple. The horizontal and vertical lamellae are connected to the corresponding servo motors. Hence, the servos linearily control either the horizontal or vertical direction of air flow.

    In order to test the mechanics, I hooked up the servos to a spare RC receiver controlling the servos via an RC remote. The mechanics seem to work really well. I will upload a video soon.

    Next step will be to hook up the servos to the Raspberry Pi and start coding...

View all 5 project logs

Enjoy this project?



suicidal.banana wrote 07/14/2016 at 09:53 point

Nice project & idea :)

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hanno wrote 07/14/2016 at 15:41 point


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Martin wrote 07/14/2016 at 09:45 point

Extra bonus for the cat in the video :-)

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hanno wrote 07/14/2016 at 15:41 point

Actually the cat can get quite annoying when writing project updates... ;)

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helge wrote 06/27/2016 at 08:15 point

Fans with face detection - oh boy the singularity is approaching fast! Cool project, literally. 

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