Denso invites automakers, rival suppliers to share driver stress research
A test subject for Denso sits behind the wheel of a generic cockpit outfitted with cameras, microphones and sensors. Three screens in front of the windshield create an image of the road ahead.
Denso Corp., the Japanese supplier that helped develop Toyota's Entune infotainment system, wants to form a research group with automakers and suppliers to study driver stress.
Denso has studied people's physiological reactions to using infotainment devices while driving.
Now, the company wants to share its research with suppliers, automakers and research institutions to develop biometric yardsticks to help determine whether infotainment systems are user-friendly.
"We are putting out feelers to some other experts in the industry, because we want to speed up the [research] process," Denso's r&d manager, Justin McBride, said in an interview. "It benefits everybody."
Talk of forming a research group comes as automakers are trying to show that their infotainment systems are safe. Critics say the systems can distract drivers and cause accidents.
One possible collaborator with Denso is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AgeLab, which has conducted motorist studies.
Another possible participant is Ford Motor Co.
"We've had conversations with Denso about that," said Jeff Greenberg, Ford senior technical leader. "We're considering it."
In February, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published ease-of-use standards for infotainment hand controls. In 2014, the agency will issue guidelines for use of voice technology.
All of which will raise pressure on Denso and other infotainment developers to speed their research. In its office complex in suburban Detroit, Denso has set up a driving simulator to measure motorists' physiological reactions.
It's a generic cockpit outfitted with cameras, microphones and sensors. Three screens in front of the windshield create an image of the road ahead.
Sensors measure the test subjects' heart rate, skin resistance, respiration, brain waves and eye movements as they carry out tasks on the infotainment screen.
For instance, the motorist might be asked to view a batch of circles on the screen, then identify one circle that is slightly larger than the others. This task gets a bit stressful when the motorist is driving 70 mph on a busy highway - even if the highway is imaginary.
Sensors measure the test subjects' heart rate, skin resistance, respiration, brain waves and eye movements as they carry out tasks on the infotainment screen. Analysts monitor the sensor readings.
McBride says the simulator has been useful in the initial stages of infotainment design, when Denso might evaluate two or three competing approaches. "We use it early to weed out the bad ideas," he said.
Ford has conducted similar research with a simulator in its test lab in Dearborn, Mich.
Ford's simulator has infrared sensors on the steering wheel that can gauge changes in temperature in the driver's hands and face. Metal pads on the rim of the steering wheel monitor the motorist's heart rate, while a sensor in the seat belt checks the breathing rate.
The next step, says Ford's Greenberg, is to install these sensors in a test vehicle that can be driven. "There is nothing in that test buck that can't be put on the road," he said. "We'd use them for experiments."
You can reach David Sedgwick at email@example.com.