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The touch keypad is widely used today, particularly for navigation systems, but viewed by Denso's Doug Patton as likely to fade from the scene.

Denso joins driver distraction consortium

Research into driver distraction has largely been done on a cut-and-try basis to date. A group of researchers comes up with a list of ideas, thinks of ways to put them into hardware, then develops a set of human trials to measure the effects. A new consortium, announced at the North American International Auto Show by Denso, intends to look at the issue from a more basic research viewpoint.

The goal is to produce a "toolkit," a way of evaluating an HMI (human machine interface) for intuitiveness, convenience, and safe usability for a wide demographic range, so a manufacturer can determine not only what works, but for whom (teens, older drivers, tech-oriented vs. not). Denso produces modules, but that's just one part of the picture, explained Doug Patton, Senior Vice President, Engineering Division. That toolkit eventually would lead to hardware, he noted. But each manufacturer has a different level of feature content and sales/driver demographic. 

Custom, customizable solutions 

So the research likely would will be used differently by the OE members of the consortium (Honda, Subaru, and Jaguar Land Rover), which presents an engineering challenge to suppliers, to provide custom and customizable solutions.  

Also in the consortium, and assigned technical leadership roles, are the MIT AgeLab, which focuses on technology needed through a person's lifespan, and Touchstone Evaluations.  Touchstone is an automotive science-based firm that is researching driver multi-tasking, attention, and assessment of distractions, with the expectation it will lead to innovation in user interfaces. The consortium  is named AHEAD (Advanced Human Factors Evaluator for Automotive Distraction). The car makers will have to pick complementary technologies, while giving car buyers what they want.

"We know drivers want to be connected while driving," Patton said, "but how do we safely give them what they want? We need to evaluate driver workload, but there's no quantifiable and objective metrology (way to measure the workload) model in place." That's the key part of the consortium's  task. 

Patton said he expects within a year to see useful initial data on the effects of traffic and how the workloads increase and decrease from different types of inputs—visual, auditory, and physical (using touchscreen keypads, gestures, etc.). He views Denso's work from the AHEAD research to be over a four-year period.

Keypad seen fading 

He told Automotive Engineering that he sees greater use of voice-activated components, "because not everyone is tech savvy." He added that he sees the keypad as a fading HMI and that various forms of heads-up display are likely to come into wider use.

Although basic research should lead to more universally helpful changes, Denso also points to the several well-publicized U.S. teen driving statistics, led by the one that a teen is involved in an auto accident every 55 s.

The other key statistics are that driving kills three times more teens than any other cause, that a male teen driver is more at risk than a female, and that a mid-teen (16-17 years old) driver's crash risk increases when there are young passengers in the car.

Denso calls it the "Teen Driving Challenge," and said its research team has some technology it believes will help reduce the risks. It will present its developments at the Intelligent Transport Systems Congress later this year.

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