New Hi-Tech Devices Mean Safer Driving

57% of respondents say hi-tech devices distract drivers
58% said limits should be placed on the use of hi-tech devices to prevent accidents
26% said navigation systems are their favorite hi-tech device
Ford unveils new “Smart Intersections” system that gives new meaning to the term “hi-tech device”

DETROIT – In a recent survey about hi-tech gadgetry, 57% of respondents said they think smart devices distract drivers, while another 26% said they love on-board navigation systems and if they didn’t already have one, they soon would.

But interestingly enough, none of those surveyed considered new safety devices being developed by automakers amongst the smart devices that piqued their interest.

Maybe people think a radio that plays jazzy music by a simple voice command is intriguing enough.

“I know I don’t think about the smart things being built into my car,” said Dennis Donaldson of Detroit, who oddly enough, is a computer programmer.

“I mean, they come with the car, right? It’s just what’s supposed to be (on) there anyway, isn’t it?”

Not necessarily.

Just Thursday, Ford Motor Company took the wraps off its new “Smart Intersections” that communicates with specially equipped test vehicles to warn drivers of potentially dangerous traffic situations, such as when a vehicle is about to run through a red light.

The intersection is outfitted with technology that can monitor the status of a traffic signal, GPS data and digital maps to assess potential hazards, and then transmits the information to vehicles.

“For real?” said Donaldson when told about the system that’s now undergoing testing at Ford’s experimental facilities in Dearborn Michigan. “Now that is something I’d be interested in knowing about,” he said. “That is interesting.”

If Donaldson is impressed by what Ford’s doing, his socks might be knocked completely off by what DENSO Corporation is up to.

The Japanese company, a leading supplier of advanced automotive technology systems and components for all the world’s major automakers, unveiled technology at January’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit that might eliminate drivers falling asleep at the wheel altogether.

It’s called eye-gaze technology, and it’s closer to becoming reality than you might imagine.

“Drivers are liable to close eyes or slowly move eye-gaze right and left when they feel drowsiness,” said Miwa Kurokawa, DENSO Manager of Corporate Communications, DENSO Corporation. “Therefore, we believe that we will be able to detect driver’s drowsiness by detecting such driver’s conditions.”

Once the system senses that a driver may be falling asleep at the wheel, it begins a series of events designed to get their attention and, essentially, wake them up.

Vents embedded in the headrests and overhead blow cold air to snap them out of their doze. At the same time, warning lights on the instrument panel flash and a warning buzzer goes off.

Detractors of the system say it has its flaws. For instance, it apparently cannot recognize certain eye colors like blue or gray.

Kurokawa admits there are challenges to overcome, but said it has nothing to do with the color of someone’s eyes.

“One of the issues in eye-gaze technology is the shape of eyes and their periphery,” she said.

“It’s not the color of cornea. For example, Western (civilization) people generally have eyes recessed, (different) when compared to Japanese. We are currently developing technologies to be able to correctly detect eye-gazes regardless of shapes of eyes and their periphery.”

But DENSO isn’t stopping there. They’re also working on systems that will help vehicles recognize things going on with the environment around it.

“Correct and appropriate recognition of the environment around a vehicle is indispensable to …safe driving and smooth traffic flow,” said Kurokawa. “We’re developing various detecting technologies to help drivers recognize the environment, including pedestrians and road signs around the vehicle.”

The system works by having you look into a screen upon entering the vehicle. It then records specifics of your “gaze” and can then know in which direction you’re looking at all times. “The system can warn the driver when it is detected that he/she does not recognize (or isn’t looking in the direction of) pedestrians or road signs.”

In other words, if the system senses your eyes are looking somewhere they shouldn’t when imminent danger is approaching, displays flash and audible sounds will alert you to it.

“It’s a remarkable system.” she said.

Donaldson thinks its kind of a neat system himself. “So, if I’m not looking at something, it knows it?” he asks. Correct, he’s told.

“And once it knows I’m not, it tells me to get with the program or there’s going to be trouble? Right again, Dennis.

“Wow,” he says.

Wow is right.

Published on Wednesday, July 16, 2008 - Copyright 2014, INC. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed.


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