We've all that that "OMG" moment behind the wheel when the sun unexpectedly hits our eyes on our morning commute, or when an oncoming car has rudely forgotten their high beams rendering us temporarily blinded. Now, a prototype steering wheel that vibrates could tell us where to steer when we can't see.
This isn't just a vibration that warns us to be more alert; this vibrating steering wheel uses sensing devices like GPS and lane keeping cameras to keep us on course. When you are dazzled by any kind of unexpected light and you tend to drift out of your lane the vibrating system kicks into gear.
The system makes the most out of our tactile sense by being tuned to 275 hertz, the frequency most sensitive to our skin. Then, depending on how you are drifting, the wheel will guide you — if you are headed left, that side of the wheel would vibrate until you safely correct yourself back into your lane.
This forward thinking, but simple idea comes courtesy of Eelke Folmer and Burkay Sucu from the University of Reno in Nevada. Their goal was to cut the accident toll caused by the temporary blindness from any kind of unexpected light. The idea was inspired by the wintertime experience of being dazzled by snow glare.
The duo has tested the system with 12 volunteers and found that it worked — the only flaw coming from the human side. When the volunteer drivers had their hands on the wheel their hands tended to move out of the zones programed to vibrate.
So while the system may be able to sense the glare and set itself in motion it will need tweaking to accommodate the vast differences in where users place their hands on the wheel.
Still, it represents a step forward in improving auto safety by addressing a problem — in this case flawed steering — right where it can most quickly be addressed. As the design is tweaked, it could be that vibrating safety steering wheels are as common as airbags.
If only there were a similar device to help those of us who close our eyes when we sneeze behind the wheel!
Via New Scientist