Estimating Driver Workload

7/2/2012


Connectivity in the car is increasing, but so is the driver’s need for safety. In surveys, drivers consistently rank safety as one of the most important qualities a car can possess. Automakers know they need to provide both connectivity and peace of mind, and they are using new technologies to do just that.

Someday your car may be intelligent enough to help you out in challenging situations. At least that’s the hope of Ford Motor Co., www.ford.com. The automaker is working on systems that use sensors to monitor drivers and provide assistance.

Ford is conducting research using sensors in a vehicle to determine the amount of external demand and workload upon a driver. Data from sensors that monitor the driver would be combined with traffic and road conditions to create a picture of how much the driver’s abilities are being taxed. Ford says the “driver workload estimator” is an algorithm using realtime 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 resulting intelligent system could manage in-vehicle communications based on how heavy the driver’s workload is at any given time. In essence, the car would be able to make decisions about how much communication is a good idea.

Ford provides an example of the system in action. If radar sensors determine there is a significant amount of traffic on a road while a driver is merging, and sensors on the throttle show the driver is speeding up, that could indicate an increased driver workload. The system could then decide it’s not a good time for an incoming call to ring inside the car, and the “Do Not Disturb” feature of MyFord Touch would be applied.

Other sensors in a car may go further in keeping track of a driver’s condition. Ford is researching the development of a biometric seat, seat belt, and steering wheel that could monitor the driver. In an experimental system, metal pads on the steering wheel are similar to those used on exercise equipment and are used to measure the driver’s heart rate.

Additionally, a sensor in the seat belt monitors the driver’s breathing rate, and other sensors check for changes in body temperature. Right now, these features are still in the research stage, but they show what is possible using connected systems.

Perhaps someday driver workload will be something our cars continually monitor, making realtime decisions about the best ways to keep us safe behind the wheel.





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