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Drivers Overwhelmed by Technology

Here is an example of what does not work; this assistance system can distract the driver in an untimely way.

Driver assistance systems are becoming increasingly sophisticated and sometimes have a perverse effect; if they require too much attention by the driver they can result in a loss instead of a gain of security. The European programme Roadsense brings carmakers together with a number of EU scientific institutions to work on adapting driver assistance systems to human limits.

Could it turn out that the main stumbling block to safer highways is the human brain? In their push to increase the safety and driving ease of their vehicles, carmakers have been led to develop increasingly sophisticated asssistance systems, like ABS or ESP (automated braking system acting directly on a vehicle's brakes to stabilize its trajectory).

But these innovations are only the beginning of a series of even higher performing systems worked up by carmakers such as Adaptative Cruise Control (ACC), which automatically controls a vehicle's speed in function of the distance to the vehicle in front. Another system, Lane Departure Warning, would detect roadway markings and beep at drivers whose vehicle starts to stray from its lane. And these are just two examples of marvels to come! Others would augment night vision or link satellite positioning to real-time traffic conditions.

There is, however, a catch. Carmakers are increasingly preoccupied by limitations to the central element of their growing set of assistance systems: the human brain. Paradoxically, a driver beset by too many warning systems beeping, blinking and vibrating is a distracted driver who may be more prone to cause an accident.

The European program Roadsense was born of exactly this concern. European manufacturers like Jaguar, PSA, Renault, Fiat, and Porsche work with researchers from institutes1 in Great Britain, France and the Netherlands in the context of this program.

Launched over three years ago, Roadsense is working to develop a methodology for testing the effectiveness of the various new driver assistance systems by analysing their impact on the driver. A set of fifty or so indicators have been worked up, including for example the speed of change of the angle of the vehicle, the steadiness with which a driver stays in a lane, or the direction of the driver's gaze. The first accomplishment will be a European normalisation of these indicators for use by manufacturers in evaluating innovative systems.

Philippe Bonnifait, a researcher at HEUDIASYC explains: “An accurate calculation of these indicators is a big job since it's necessary to “interface” the sensors, the calculators within the assistance systems, and observations of driver behavior.

As a response to doubters who question the need for all these systems, Philippe Bonnifait takes the example of the rear-view mirror. “Its use involves a certain risk as the driver must fleetingly turn his attention away from the road ahead, but who today would deny its contribution to road  safety? Similarly, the future contribution of these new safety systems lies in integrating them well with driver behavior and capacity."


© D.R.

The HEUDIASYC Laboratory's test vehicle STRADA (the sensor in the back is a laser telemeter and the antenna on the roof is a GPS differential receiver).




Philippe Bonnifait
Laboratoire HEUDIASYC

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