Ford is developing technology that will limit access to a driver’s cell phone but only when it senses that traffic is heavy and the driver is experiencing stress. The smart car will use sonar and radar to measure traffic levels. Biometric sensors in the steering wheel and seat will measure body temperature and other indicators of stress. When the car senses that traffic is heavy and the driver is stressed, inbound calls will be directed to voicemail, and text messages will not be announced.
The states vary in the restrictions they place on drivers’ cell phone use, with some prohibiting any use of handheld devices while driving and others having no restrictions. In Illinois, cell phone use is prohibited in construction areas and school zones, and drivers under the age of 19 may not use their phones while on the road. Commercial drivers may not use handheld devices while driving. The City of Chicago and some other municipalities have banned the use of handheld devices while driving.
As governments have moved to restrict cell phone use, automakers have been introducing technology that connects electronic devices with the automobile, so that the car can alert the driver to incoming calls or read text messages aloud. Ford’s approach is based on the idea that some situations are particularly dangerous.
Ford’s biometric steering wheel measures the driver’s heart rate, using the same technology found in gym equipment. Infrared sensors measure the driver’s body temperature, and the seat belt contains a piezoelectric sensor to detect the driver’s rate of breathing.
The new technology also measures traffic flow around the vehicle, using tools already available on current vehicles. There is a front-facing camera that measures traffic density in the lanes ahead and a blind spot detection device that uses sonar.
Another set of sensors measures the controls of the automobile itself: speed, acceleration, braking activity and steering wheel position. Lateral acceleration and yaw rate (changing lanes and turning corners) are also measured.
The combination of sensors is used to determine whether a particular driving situation requires the motorist’s full attention. The technology can then temporarily disable access to the driver’s handheld device. The system will use an algorithm to determine whether the combination of traffic conditions and the driver’s stress level indicates that a distraction may be particularly dangerous at that moment.
The new technology builds on Ford’s existing MyKey system, developed for younger drivers. MyKey allows parents to program a vehicle to block text messages and phone calls while the car is in motion and limit the car’s top speed and top radio volume. In addition, if the front seat passengers don’t buckle their safety belts, the audio system is muted.