Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and AT&T Labs are working on a distracted driving aid that borrows from video games. The project is developing a haptic feedback steering wheel that vibrates when people aren’t paying attention to the road.
From Starfox to steering wheel
Some people might remember a Nintendo game called “Star Fox 64.” The game itself, like many others, was just a popular Super Nintendo game that was updated for the Nintendo 64 and wasn’t terrifically important. However, an accessory came with the game called the RumblePak. The device used what is called “haptic feedback,” meaning it affects sense of touch, involving the player in the game with vibrations during game play.
It wasn’t new technology, but the RumblePak helped popularize its use in video games. Since then, numerous game systems and controllers have included haptic feedback. Plenty of third-party manufacturers make steering wheel controllers for driving games that use haptic feedback. Currently, according to AutoBlog, some researchers are trying to ready those steering wheels for real cars.
Just a concept
The concept is showing some promise in lab settings. The idea is not so much to turn driving into a video game, but rather to cut down on distracted driving by vibrating the steering wheel to alert the driver to danger.
The wheel, according to PC World, uses vibrations to signal which direction to turn. The vibrations, created by 20 actuators, form descending patterns, going counter-clockwise to signal the driver to turn left or clockwise to signal a right turn.
One application of the steering system is to guide drivers using GPS. Instead of looking at a sat-nav screen, which can be distracting, the feedback will provide guidance as to when and where to turn. The researchers are also looking at using vibrations when other cars are in blind spots or if the driver is distracted.
In tests with drivers being guided by voice navigation in a simulator, drivers with an average age of 25 years were able to keep their eyes on the road 3 percent more of the time. However, drivers with an average age of 65 were less able to concentrate.
Years from production
The researchers in the study assert a steering wheel using haptic feedback, also called force feedback, is years from production.
The concept isn’t crazy. By 2009, according to MSNBC, Mercedes, Volvo and other car makers were putting in driver alert systems to keep potentially drowsy drivers alert. A vibrating steering wheel seems the next evolutionary step.
Anything that helps cut down distracted driving fatalities is a worthwhile investment. In 2009, according to the Wall Street Journal, 5,474 people were killed in accidents related to distracted driving.
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