- Existing sensor signals for driver-assist systems can be combined in new ways to estimate workload on the driver based on traffic and road conditions
- Ford researchers also are using biometric feedback through sensors in the steering wheel, seat and seat belt to provide a more complete model of driver stress levels
- Driver workload estimation can be used to manage in-vehicle communications by helping minimize driver distractions during hectic conditions
DEARBORN, Mich., June 27, 2012 – 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.
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.
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.
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.
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Ford Motor Company, a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, Mich., manufactures or distributes automobiles across six continents. With about 166,000 employees and about 70 plants worldwide, the company’s automotive brands include Ford and Lincoln. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. For more information regarding Ford and its products worldwide, please visit http://corporate.ford.com.