If you’re feeling a little frazzled and stressed, you are not alone. When it comes to driver stress, Ford is doing something about. In fact, Ford is working in cooperation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on an advanced research project that explores automotive technology solutions to improve driver safety by lowering stress.
“Today’s driver is feeling a greater level of anxiety than in the past, both from situations inside and outside the vehicle,” said Joseph Coughlin, founder and director of MIT’s AgeLab and the leader of this initiative. “This arises in part from the chronic stress in individuals’ daily lives combined with longer commute times, increased driving demands due to traffic congestion and deteriorating infrastructure.”
While holiday shoppers recover from fighting long lines, crowded parking lots and icy roads, Ford and MIT researchers are focusing on how the car can potentially enhance overall human wellness, become an oasis from stressful situations, and increase driver attention and safety.
In cooperation with MIT’s renowned AgeLab, the project will identify specific stress-inducing driving situations, monitor a driver’s reaction to the situations using biometrics, and evaluate methods to incorporate new stress-reducing features into the next generation of Ford products. A six-month effort began in January of 2010 that will focus on human interaction with a specially equipped 2010 Lincoln MKS, a vehicle already recognized for its advanced safety features.
“We strongly believe that driving can be made safer by reducing the stress load placed on a driver,” said Jeff Rupp, Ford manager, Active Safety Research. “Through the use of our existing technologies such as Adaptive Cruise Control with Collision Warning or SYNC®, our voice-activated communications system, we are proactively guiding drivers away from difficult situations.”
This current undertaking is the next step in an ongoing effort to study and, eventually, significantly improve driver wellness. Since 2004, Ford and MIT’s AgeLab – in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s New England University Transportation Center – have been working to develop vehicle systems that detect the state of a driver at key points in time. This project envisions using this information to adjust systems in the car in ways that can reduce driver stress. One of the goals of this work is to help the driver recapture the wellness experience that driving once promised.
By monitoring biometrics such as heart rate, skin conductivity and eye movement, researchers at MIT have been working to develop a specific set of parameters for an embedded detection system that could be engineered into future Ford vehicles.
A white paper describing the conceptual framework for a vehicle-based safety/wellness platform and results of studies on detection systems was released December 30, 2009, by the MIT AgeLab. You can view the paper by clicking here.