Ford Research Aims to Keep Drivers Focused on the Road

Huw Evans
by Huw Evans

In recent years, with the plethora of devices and connectivity being incorporated into cars, it would appear the notion of distracted driving is at an all-time high. However, Ford Motor Company has just announced that it has been working on advanced research aimed at minimizing these distractions based on driver workload, keeping motorists safe and focused on the task at hand; driving.

During a press conference in Dearborn yesterday, Jeff Greenberg, senior technical leader at Ford Research and Innovation, said “Ford has been a leader in delivering safer solutions for in-car communications and simplifying the user interface, and now we’re researching ways to use the car’s own intelligence to further help drivers.”

Greenberg says that by using data gathered from sensors that monitor road conditions, vehicle control inputs and even biometric information, such as a driver’s pulse and breathing rates, a “driver workload” estimation can be created using algorithms, enabling certain vehicle functions to be “managed” depending on driving situations. The biometric inputs come from sensors placed on the steering wheel, seats and seat belts.

In order to get an idea of how this technology works, Greenberg cited a particular example: The side-looking radar sensors used for Ford’s Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) and the forward-looking camera for the Lane-Keeping System are always on watch even when there is no active warning provided to the driver. These signals could indicate there is a significant amount of traffic in the lane in which the driver is merging into while entering a highway. When combined with data that the driver has increased throttle pedal pressure to deal with the change in traffic conditions, the workload estimate could then determine that because driver demands have increased, this moment would not be a very good time for an incoming phone call to ring inside the cabin.

As a result, the car could then intelligently apply the “Do Not Disturb” feature integrated into MyFord Touch, enabling the driver stay focused on the road during this high-demand situation.

Besides this, Ford says it is also researching ways to better understand the stress level of drivers, using biometric technologies and processes similar to those found on fitness equipment, such as treadmills and cross trainers.

Traffic Jam Assist is among the technologies Ford Motor Company is researching and developing to help address future mobility challenges and prevent "global gridlock". (06/26/2012)

By fitting infrared sensors on the steering wheel, Greenberg says that it is possible to monitor the palms of a driver’s hands as well as their face looking for changes in temperature. A downward-looking infrared sensor under the steering column measures the cabin temperature to provide a baseline for comparing changes in the driver’s temperature. The final sensor is embedded in the seat belt to assess the driver’s breathing rate.

As a result, with a more complete picture of the driver’s health and wellness blended with knowledge of what is happening outside the vehicle, the car will have the intelligence to dynamically adjust the alerts provided to the driver and filter interruptions. With the driver occupied in heavy traffic, the vehicle control system could increase the warning times for forward collision alerts and automatically filter out phone calls and messages, allowing the driver more time to respond. On the other hand, an alert driver on an open highway could safely receive incoming calls.

“While these features are still in research, they show significant opportunity for us to leverage data already being captured by the vehicle and apply an intelligent decision-making system to simplify the driving experience,” remarked Gary Strumolo, manager of vehicle design and infotronics at Ford Research and Innovation.

Huw Evans
Huw Evans

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