Ford Sensing the Need to Help Drivers Focus

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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.

“Ford has been a leader in delivering 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,” says Jeff Greenberg, senior technical leader of Ford Research and Innovation.

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.

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 accelerator, 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.

Turning new biometric sensors toward the driver will help to create a more complete picture of the driver workload.

“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.”

The experimental system adds several sensors to the steering wheel rim and spokes to get more detailed driver information. Infrared sensors on the steering wheel and steering column monitor and compare changes in driver and cabin 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,” Strumolo adds.

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