TORONTO - Real-life driving information being collected from 120 Michigan drivers will help General Motors and Delphi test and build new vehicle crash-avoidance systems.
A five year, $35 million scientific study on how actual drivers react to new, automated safety systems is one of the largest ever to be carried out, GM officials said.
Development of the prototype test car began in June. At the sixth World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems last month here, Buick announced that its new LeSabre will be the research program's vehicle.
Each driver will use one of 10 specially equipped 2000 LeSabres. Most drivers will use a car for two weeks, and about one-fourth will have the cars for four weeks.
The LeSabres are fitted with special adaptive cruise controls that use radar sensing and computerized controls on the engine and brakes to keep a set distance from leading vehicles automatically.
The LeSabres also have crash-warning systems that make noise and use a head-up display to alert drivers to objects in front of them, such as a stopped or rapidly decelerating car.
Buick's test cars also will include GM's trade-named 'StabiliTrak' automatic handling system. Stabilitrak combines vehicle controls to correct driver errors that could lead to a skid or spin-out during quick swerves. The feature is already standard equipment on some top-of-the-line GM cars.
The field test will be operated by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
Data gathered from the everyday driving experiences will provide a more insightful picture than any test track or limited-access study ever could, said Ronald Colgin, manager of the GM/U.S. Department of Transportation Crash Avoidance Research Project.
Colgin said the study will try to capture the driver's natural behavior behind the wheel, rather than the behavior drivers exhibit when they know a controlled test is under way. Drivers will be given a chance to get used to the test cars before any safety systems are activated. They probably will not have any contact with GM test staff during their vehicle use.
'The systems are in place, and the user drives for about a week without functionality,' Colgin said. 'Then we're able to tell the system to enable the functionality, probably by remote control.'
An automatic cell-phone call will transmit data about the test car each time the ignition is turned on so that test staff can keep track of the car and ensure it is working correctly. Driving data is collected on a removable computer hard drive and will be gathered after each driver turns in a test car.
LOTS OF DATA
Colgin said the test will collect an immense amount of data. The cars continuously will monitor 24 variables in driving behavior, from how often cruise control is used to how aggressive or passive the driver's behavior may be in braking or accelerating.
'We're looking for people who are inclined to use cruise control,' Colgin said, because the safety systems depend on drivers using it.
The study is funded with $21 million in federal money under the Intelligent Transportation Systems program and with $7 million each from Delphi Delco Electronics Systems and from GM.
Field data will be analyzed by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Volpe National Transportation System Center in Boston.