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TMCNet:  Project 54 focus turns to distracted driving

[November 09, 2012]

Project 54 focus turns to distracted driving

DURHAM, Nov 09, 2012 (Foster's Daily Democrat - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- With a myriad of innovative technology now at our fingertips, it seems all too easy for iPods, cell phones, and GPS devices to find their way into our vehicles.


While convenient and often entertaining, when used behind the wheel those devices can prove to be distracting, and scientists from a variety of fields are working to address that problem by examining both technical and psychological aspects of distracted driving.

In late October,more than 150 researchers and practitioners from around the world met for three days worth of sessions to address myriad ways to enhance both the safety and service of devices in vehicles.

The fourth annual Automotive UI conference, short for International Conference on Automotive User Interfaces and Interactive Vehicle Applications, brought together computer scientists, electrical engineers, human factors engineers, psychologists, and computer engineers.

On Oct. 17, the first day of the conference, participants gathered at Morse Hall at UNH, home of the university's Project 54, which developed a system for devices in police cruisers -- such as sirens, computers, radars, and radios -- to be fully controlled by the driver's voice.

Project 54, a partnership effort between UNH and the N.H. Department of Safety, is now working with a driving simulator to study effects of everyday devices on the driver's attention to the road.

During the first day of the Automotive UI conference, participants sat inside a driving simulator and tested their skills on a simulated road, seen through three large screens in front of the driver. Meanwhile, the simulator recorded the driver's eye movements and pupil size, to study the cognitive load on the participants.

Oskar Palinko, research engineer with Project 54, explained that pupils dilate when a person has a high cognitive load. So far, the project has shown that drivers have a higher cognitive load when texting and using an iPod.

"When he is using an iPod, he is definitely spending more time looking down," said Palinko about a participant in the driving simulator.

But even when one's hands are free, distractions such as music or an intense phone conversation can still have an effect on a driver's cognitive load.

"So even if you are looking at the road ahead, you could, you know, be blinded by your thoughts," said Palinko.

He said the current studies with the eye tracker help quantify what the general public, for the most part, already knows -- that in-vehicle devices such as cell phones tend to contribute to distracted driving.

Text messaging tends to be offer the biggest distraction for drivers, said Palinko.

Drivers, on average, spend five seconds looking away from the road, said Palinko, and that can make a big difference. "Something can jump in front of you while you're driving." Andrew Kun, principal investigator of Project 54 and associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at UNH, said he hopes the collection of knowledge resulting from the new phase of Project 54 will eventually turn into better technology inside vehicles to increase drivers' performance and help them focus on the primary task behind the wheel.

He said the first phase of the project, which implemented a fully integrated voice command system in police cruisers, is "the most advanced thing in the world as far as police goes." ___ (c)2012 the Foster's Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.) Visit the Foster's Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.) at www.fosters.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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