Ford Developing Systems To Help Drivers Manage Stressful Situations

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DEARBORN — With today’s ever-increasing concern about driver distraction, engineers in the Ford Research and Innovation labs are developing ways to help the driver stay focused in busy situations by intelligently managing incoming communications.

Said Jeff Greenberg, senior technical leader of Ford Research and Innovation: “Vehicle control inputs, sensors, road conditions and biometric information such as a driver’s pulse and breathing can all be used to create a driver workload estimation that can then help manage certain functions in demanding situations.”

Data from the sensing systems of driver-assist technologies can be used to determine the amount of external demand and workload upon a driver at any given time, including traffic and road conditions. In addition, Ford continues its health and wellness research with the development of a biometric seat, seat belt and steering wheel that can monitor the condition of the driver to help add an even more specific estimate of the driver’s state of being.

The driver workload estimator is an algorithm using real-time data from existing sensors such as radar and cameras combined with input from the driver’s use of the throttle, brakes and steering wheel. The result is an intelligent system enabling management of in-vehicle communications based on the assessed workload of the driving situation.

For example, the side-looking radar sensors used for the Blind Spot Information System and the forward-looking camera for the Lane-Keeping System are 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 that you are merging into while entering a highway.

Combine that knowledge with the fact that the driver has increased throttle pedal pressure to speed up, and the workload estimate could be high enough to determine it isn’t a very good time for an incoming phone call to ring inside the cabin.

The car could intelligently apply the “Do Not Disturb” feature that is already available as part of MyFord Touch, helping the driver stay focused on the road during the high-demand situation.

Monitoring driver biometrics

“In addition to using existing vehicle data to estimate demand on the driver, we’re researching ways to get an even better understanding of the stress level of the driver,” says Gary Strumolo, manager of vehicle design and infotronics, Ford Research and Innovation. “Biometric or health information of the driver can help us better tailor the experience when behind the wheel.”

Turning new biometric sensors toward the driver will help to create a more complete picture of the driver workload. The research team has built a biometric seating buck to test a number of different sensors and gather data on how drivers respond to a variety of inputs for a driver behavior model.

The experimental system adds several sensors to the steering wheel rim and spokes to get more detailed driver information. Anyone who has used modern exercise equipment like treadmills and stair climbers will be familiar with the metal pads on the rim that can be used to measure the driver’s heart rate.

Infrared sensors on the steering wheel monitor the palms of a driver’s hands as well as his or her 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.

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 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,” adds Strumolo.

More at www.ford.com.

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