WORRIED that the sun in your eyes will impair your driving? For the first time, a vibrating steering wheel will tell drivers where to steer when undipped headlights or other visual impediments leave them temporarily blinded.
Eelke Folmer and Burkay Sucu at the University of Reno in Nevada, designed the steering wheel to help cut the accident toll caused by glare, especially in winter, when motorists are most likely to be dazzled by low sun and reflections from snow and ice.
Cars with vibrating seats can already warn drivers when another vehicle is approaching in their blind spot. But the team's design is the only one to help drivers steer using tactile cues. The system relies on car sensors like GPS and lane-keeping cameras to map the road ahead and work out where the vehicle is. When sensors detect the driver may be dazzled and drifting from their lane, the vibro-tactile system buzzes into action.
The vibrations are tuned to 275 hertz, the frequency that our skin is most sensitive to. And the cues are directional, so if a driver drifts left, the left side of the wheel will vibrate - a signal to steer right until it stops vibrating, just like a rumble strip. "It's fairly easy for the system to anticipate or sense glare conditions and activate itself," says Folmer. The system worked well in tests with 12 volunteers in a simulator, but the drivers' hands strayed from the left and right vibrators - so the devices may need to be more widely distributed around the wheel.
It's promising work, says Paul Newman, who is developing a driverless car at the University of Oxford. "Touch is an extraordinarily rich sensory pathway and is an ideal way to provide safety-improving hints. In this case, the hints are felt at the very place action is required - on the steering wheel itself," he says.
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