Ford Working on System to Eliminate Distracted Driving

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Co.

After debuting two self-driving technologies last week, Ford Motor Co. is already working on another — one that will help keep motorists focused while behind the wheel.

The American automaker is researching ways to use vehicle intelligence to further help drivers from distractions. With vehicle control inputs, sensors, and biometric information, engineers are developing a driver workload estimation that will help manage certain functions like cell phone usage  in demanding situations on the road.

The driver workload estimator is basically an algorithm. It  combines real-time data from a vehicle’s existing sensors, such as radar and cameras, with input from the use of the throttle, brakes and steering wheel, creating an intelligent system that will enable all in-vehicle communications from the assessed workload of the driving situation.

According to Ford, data from the sensing systems of driver-assist technologies can be used to determine the amount of external demand and workload a motorist is experiencing at any given time, including traffic and road conditions. For example, the side-looking radar sensors used for the Blind Spot Information System and the forward-facing camera for the Lane-Keeping System are continuously monitoring the vehicle — even when there is no active warning or command provided. These signals could indicate there is a significant amount of traffic in the lane that a driver is merging into while entering a highway.

Ford is also gathering its health and wellness research with the development of a biometric seat, safety belt and steering wheel. Each will be able to observe the condition of the driver to help add an even more specific estimate of well-being.  Infrared sensors on the steering wheel will then monitor the palms of a driver’s hands by looking for changes in temperature. An infrared sensor under the steering column measures the cabin temperature to provide a baseline for comparing changes in the driver’s temperature. The final sensor is embedded in the seat belt to assess the driver’s breathing rate.

With a more complete picture of the driver’s health and wellness blended with knowledge of what is happening outside the vehicle, the car will have the intelligence to dynamically adjust the alerts provided to the motorist and filter interruptions. The vehicle control system could increase the warning times for forward collision alerts and automatically filter out phone calls and messages with the “Do Not Disturb” feature that is already available as part of MyFord Touch, helping the driver stay focused on the road.

The experimental system adds several sensors throughout other parts of the vehicle to get more detailed driver information.

What are the benefits of these types of advanced automotive technologies? Do you think the driver workload estimator or a self-driving system will make vehicles and roads more safe?


About Brittney French

Brittney is a journalist and media relations specialist who lives in St. Louis, Mo. When she's not blogging for Lebanon Ford, she is the author of a women's column and also writes about music, events, and St. Louis sports. Having little knowledge in the automotive industry, Brittney provides valuable insight on cars for those who may be in the same boat. She can be found on Facebook and Twitter @brittfrancois.