TORONTO - Drivers who are about to run a traffic light or who are driving too aggressively may find themselves shaken - literally - by their car.
A new vehicle safety technology called 'haptic' feedback systems could physically alert drivers to changing road conditions or bad driving decisions.
According to researchers studying the technology, haptic systems would use radar or other sensors to monitor activity on the road, including traffic light colors and approaching vehicles. The systems would be tied to a vehicle's brakes, steering wheel or even its instrument panel to emit a warning when trouble is approaching.
At least one such prototype system, a braking unit that gives drivers three quick-stopping pulses to warn of a potential accident, is under development by the Calspan Group of Veridian Engineering Inc. of Buffalo, N.Y., with funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The company discussed the system at the sixth World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems last month here.
'It's effective; it's highly discernible,' said Glenn Wilson, a mechanical and design engineer for Veridian who is working on the technology.
A haptic system would operate much like the stick-shaker mechanisms on airplane controls. Stick-shaker systems are standard on most commercial and many military jet aircraft. They combine with voice warnings to give pilots an early indication of trouble with their flight decisions.
Auto drivers do not push the edge of the performance envelope quite as much, but do need warnings of upcoming danger on a timely basis, Wilson said.
Wilson said most drivers begin to brake between nine and seven seconds of travel time from an intersection. If the driver doesn't begin to react within about a four-second window, they won't be able to stop in time to avoid crossing traffic.
Veridian's prototype vehicle, a Ford Crown Victoria, was fitted with a second set of brake calipers and a small, separate hydraulic system to provide the power for the feedback system. The system was wired to a global positioning sensor that tracked the car's progress along a road map.
If the Crown Victoria approaches an intersection too fast, the separate brake system will administer three sharp brake pulses - each of them between 100 and 200 milliseconds long and with a force of up to .4 g (1 g is the same as the earth's gravitational force). It stops when the four-second reaction window disappears.