Using electronic devices while driving is a huge distraction. Even the act of looking at or listening to your GPS can take your mind off the road. AT&T Labs is working on a solution that alerts drivers to navigational information by triggering vibrations on the steering wheel to augment other GPS commands.
The prototype contains 20 actuators on the outside of the wheel that can vibrate in a variety of ways. A right turn is indicated by clockwise vibrations, and a left by counterclockwise ones.
These tactile cues — known as haptic technology — could even move past directions to communicate other important information such as whether there are cars in blind spots, distance to other objects and more.
The prototype was tested in simulators in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon University and the results of their study will be released later this year. The overall takeaway however was that drivers that received the tactile cues kept their eyes on the road longer.
Younger drivers (average age of 25) who used the steering with audio and visual navigational cues showed a drop in inattentiveness of 3.1 percent. With drivers aged 65 and older the results were slightly different. There was no benefit to the haptics if used with audio and visual cues, but with audio only their inattentiveness did drop 4 percent.
Any drop in driver inattentiveness — and their eyes staying on the road — is a step in the right direction. It is estimated that driver distraction kills an estimated 3,000 people a year in the U.S. alone.
Of course using a GPS isn't the only thing that causes driver distraction. Aside from general noise in the car, using your phone while driving is the biggest problem for drivers. The statistics are grim; talking on the phone while driving increases the risk of a crash by a factor of four, and text-messaging multiplies that risk by 23.
So granted, the steps towards addressing distracted driving caused by your GPS may seem small in comparison, but the developing haptic technology is a step in the right direction. The prototype technology appears to be an intuitive and easy to process guide to reminding us what to do.
There is nothing to say that haptics couldn't be adapted in some way along with other advancing car technology to regulate mobile phone usage as well.