Here’s a surprising new auto-safety feature that might help old and new drivers focus: Scientists have created a vibrating steering wheel that helps motorist’s eyes safely on the road while using high-tech navigation systems.
The wheel, developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and AT&T Labs, provides a new way to convey directions from a car's navigation system without raising road hazard risks. In studies of the device, researchers found the wheel’s vibrations helped younger drivers become less distracted by a navigation system's display screen and, for older drivers, reinforced the auditory cues they tend to prefer.
Overall, tests showed the vibrating steering wheel improved driver performance and safety.
"Our findings suggest that, as navigation systems become more elaborate, it would be best to personalize the sensory feedback system based, at least in part, on the driver's age," said SeungJun Kim, a systems scientist in Carnegie Mellon's Human-Computer Interaction Institute, who will present the study at the upcoming International Conference on Pervasive Computing in England.
Vibrating steering wheels are now used by some car makers to alert drivers to such things as road hazards. But the wheel under development by AT&T is more advanced and can convey more information. Twenty sensors on the rim of the wheel can be fired in any order to cue drivers to take certain actions. For example: firing them in a clockwise sequence told a driver to turn right, while a counterclockwise sequence signaled a left turn.
Kim and his colleagues were particularly interested in learning whether vibrations could improve the driving performance of seniors. They tested 16 drivers ages 16-36 and 17 over the age of 65, using a simulator that required them to navigate various traffic lights, stop signs and pedestrians while the researchers monitored their heart rate, pupil size, blink rate, brain wave activity and other measures of attention.
The researchers found drivers’ eyes stayed on the road longer with the vibrating wheel than without, particularly among seniors.