New cars are outfitted with all manner of technological innovations – from high-end sound systems to enhanced safety features. But what if new cars came equipped with sensors to monitor motorists’ concentration, stress levels and driving habits to keep older drivers safer on the road?
British scientists have developed a prototype vehicle that does precisely that, paving the way to a new line of senior-friendly cars.
The Intelligent Transport team at Newcastle University converted an electric car into a mobile laboratory. Dubbed “DriveLAB,” the car features sophisticated eye trackers, bio-monitors, voice-activated navigation tools, night vision systems and intelligent speed adaptations designed to address the challenges faced by older drivers.
Lead researcher Phil Blythe said the in-vehicle technologies could help automakers design vehicles that allow seniors to continue driving into later life. Researchers noted studies show that giving up driving is one of the key factors responsible for a fall in health and well-being among older people.
"For many older people, particularly those living alone or in rural areas, driving is essential for maintaining their independence, giving them the freedom to get out and about without having to rely on others,” Blythe said. "But we all have to accept that as we get older our reactions slow down and this often results in people avoiding any potentially challenging driving conditions and losing confidence in their driving skills.”
The research team has been working with older people to understand their driving habits and fears and look at ways of overcoming them. By incorporating the eye tracker and bio-monitor with the driving simulator, the team is able to monitor eye movement, speed, reaction, lane position, acceleration, braking and driving efficiency.
"The DriveLAB is helping us to understand what the key stress triggers and difficulties are for older drivers and how we might use technology to address these problems,” said co-researcher Dr. Amy Guo. "For example, most of us would expect older drivers always go slower than everyone else but surprisingly, we found that in 30 mph zones they struggled to keep at a constant speed and so were more likely to break the speed limit and be at risk of getting fined…. We're looking at the benefits of systems which control your speed as a way of preventing that."
Another innovation: A tailored “SatNav” system that identifies the safest route and uses pictures as turning cues. The driving simulator is also examining how distractions such as answering a cell phone, sending a text or eating can affect our driving.
The research team plans to present its work at the Aging, Mobility and Quality of Life conference in Michigan in June.