The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Business

June 29, 2012

Ford tracks drivers’ stress to block distractions

DETROIT — To keep drivers more focused behind the wheel, Ford Motor Co. is working on ways to block distractions like phone calls or texts when the driver is engaged in a tricky maneuver like passing.

At the Ford Research and Innovation labs, engineers have come up with a mathematical formula to estimate driver workload.

Sensors already in the car collect data about what the car is doing and can tell whether the driver is engaged in simple, boring driving requiring little input - or whether the driver is in a more stressful act such as passing or turning.

The idea is to not add more stress at a busy time, such as having the phone ring or the fuel light come on while a driver is merging lanes.

Ford already has a “do not disturb” feature with its Sync system that blocks calls and texts.

An extension of that would be an intelligent system that automatically blocks distractions when it is deemed a bad time for the driver, said Jeff Greenberg, senior technical leader of Ford Research and Innovation.

Researchers are also using biometric feedback through sensors in the steering wheel, seat and seatbelt to monitor a driver’s stress level.

The sensors pick up respiration and heart rate, sweaty palms and other pieces of data to gauge the state of the driver.

They would signal when it is a poor time to throw new input at the driver, such as an incoming call.

Greenberg said more data needs to be collected before the research ends up on a production vehicle.

“It is research but not science fiction,” he said, meaning it won’t show up in a year but is feasible in the not-too-distant future.

 

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