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Driving Alone: How Technology is Reducing Distractions on the Road

By on October 26, 2012No Comment
Lane departure warning in Mercedes-Benz E350 BlueTec

Lane departure warning in Mercedes-Benz E350

Recently I have been giving some thought to practical uses of technology with respect to one of the most highly-publicized dangers, namely distracted driving. While distractions at the knowledge worker’s desk can cost a lot of time and money, distractions on the road can be deadly.

One application that comes to mind is the Google self-driving car. While I haven’t ridden in it (since no one drives it really), I have been driving a car for the past year or so that has some features that approach the Google self-driving car’s functionality. My car’s features include active cruise control, which uses radar to adjust the car’s speed in order to maintain a preset distance between the vehicle and the one ahead.

First, a disclaimer. I like to drive and I enjoy high-performance cars, especially on the unrestricted sections of German Autobahns. I don’t like the idea of the car driving for me, either. I didn’t even like the idea of cruise control, primarily because I felt that it would lead to a lack of attention on my part, until I started using the active version.

Another feature, lane departure warning, which is triggered by optical sensors detecting pavement lane markings, informs the driver if the car strays out of lane. Should the warning be ignored, the system will guide the car back into the lane by braking the wheels on the side of the vehicle away from the line.

Blind spot detection uses radar sensors in the rear bumper to monitor the space to the right and left of the car, focusing in on the blind spot. If a car is nearby, a warning triangle in the respective rear view mirror turns yellow. If a car is more or less next to yours, the arrow glows red. If you activate your turn signal, indicating an intention to move in the direction of said vehicle, the arrow blinks red and an alert sounds. If you continue in the direction of said vehicle, the car’s Electronic Stability Program uses rear-wheel braking, specifically applying the brake on one side, to nudge the car back into its lane.

If that isn’t enough, the car also monitors the driver (usually me) to make sure he is awake enough to drive. In the first 20 minutes of each drive, the car establishes a profile for the driver based on steering input and other factors. If a driver deviates from the profile as established, it may mean that he is sleepy. If this is determined to be the case – and the system is operative at speeds over 50 mph (80 km/h) – the car beeps and flashes an Attention Assist message (“Time for a Rest?”) on the dashboard.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex and author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization.

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