Steering Wheel Gives Driver Good Vibrations, Information
Prototype puts tactile feedback in driver’s palms to reduce distraction.
Two days ago, we reported that the new Cadillac XTS will get a vibrating seat to warn drivers of potential collision hazards. While vibrating steering wheels are nothing new -- BMW uses the technology to warn drivers of unintended lane departures -- researchers at AT&T Labs have taken the concept a step further by inventing a prototype pulsating steering wheel that transmits navigation information into the palm of a driver’s hands.
The haptic steering wheel uses 20 actuators that activate in various programmed patterns. AT&T Labs designed the prototype, which looks like a video-game steering-wheel controller wrapped in gauze, to trigger a clockwise pattern of vibrations when the driver needs to turn right and a counterclockwise to turn left.
The idea is to give drivers palpable feedback to decrease distraction and reduce the potential for accidents. Research also found that the haptic steering-wheel technology decreased the eyes-off-the-road time for older drivers slightly more than for younger ones, which will become more important as aging boomers remain on the road.
In conjunction with Carnegie Mellon University, AT&T Labs conducted a study using the prototype steering wheel in driving simulators and found that drivers under 25 experienced a 3.1 percent decrease in inattentiveness when their hands were on the haptic steering wheel (and also received traditional audible and visual navigation instructions). A separate but similar study by Carnegie Mellon found that for drivers over 65, the same inattentiveness statistic -- defined as the proportion of time subjects in the study spent with their eyes off the road -- fell by 4 percent when using a haptic steering wheel.
A Carnegie Mellon computer scientist said that adding haptic feedback to steering wheels “can lead to more attentive driving." A researcher at AT&T Labs also noted that we shouldn’t expect to see vehicles with this technology any time soon, although the group is also working on using haptics for applications such as blind-spot notification.
We have to wonder whether these tactile alerts can be deactivated, like other warnings from active safety systems. As much as massaging seats seem like a good idea on long trips, a vibrating steering wheel could quickly become a nuisance – unless maybe it gives a stronger jolt when the driver becomes drowsy.
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