EU project cuts in-car electronic distractions

European researchers have developed the prototype of a dashboard computer intended to act as a single conduit for all the electronic devices used in a car – safety systems, satellite navigation, mobile phones, PDAs and others. The idea is to control the number of distractions to the driver.

Current in-vehicle systems like open door and seat belt warnings will soon be joined by lane assistance, hazard detection and a host of other information and systems for safe and efficient driving.

“There is a real risk the driver will become overwhelmed as the number of in-car systems multiply,” said Angelos Amditis, dissemination manager of the EU-funded Adaptive, Integrated Driver-vehicle interface (AIDE) project. “There are so many potential demands on driver attention from these new systems that they could prove distracting.”

The AIDE system provides a clearinghouse for all of the systems operating in a car and to interact with the driver. This central intelligence can prioritise and emphasise the most important and urgent information based on the driver’s state and current driving conditions, and it can put all other non-essential alerts on hold.

AIDE designed the technology to prioritise demands on the driver’s attention depending on driving conditions. If the car is approaching a tricky junction, for example, it can hold all mobile calls and text messages, or suspend non-safety critical information.

The systems works by sharing input and output controls among the various subsystems, such as collision avoidance or the mobile phone unit. It then coordinates information centrally, deciding the best course of action for both a given driving situation and the driver’s current state.

If the driver is distracted, for example, the system issues warnings with greater intensity. AIDE also developed the interface so that it could adapt to different types of driver. It is possible to personalise the warning, the media, timing and its intensity according to the driver’s explicit and implicit preferences, explained Amditis.

AIDE was popular among drivers in field tests, with approximately 50 per cent of the test subjects reporting that they appreciated support from the system.

The positive field response is a tribute to the studies and testing undertaken by the AIDE project. “We consulted drivers and experts, and a lot of literature about driver response to safety systems, using a user-centred design approach,” noted Amditis.

AIDE also looked at quantitative models and simulation, which may ultimately provide a cost-effective system for testing. The perfect quantitative model remains elusive for now, but AIDE did develop a ‘cookbook’ for Human-Machine Interface (HMI) testing in the automotive industry.

“The project also raised awareness in Europe about the importance of interface issues for road safety, and AIDE has put in-car HMI on the agenda in Europe,” claimed Amditis. “Many of our partners will continue AIDE’s work, adapting elements of it to their own cars and trucks, while many of the equipment manufacturers are looking on AIDE-like systems to be implemented in their vehicles.

“There might be a move towards some standards over time, but in the short-term manufacturers will deploy proprietary implementations,” he added.

Amditis said the partners hope to continue the work in future projects. “Right now we are putting the finishing touches to our reporting and dissemination work in AIDE, but we will be pursuing new research initiatives after that.”

The AIDE project received funding from the EU’s Sixth Framework Programme for research in information-society technologies.

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