We learned yesterday that future Ford products will be able to perpendicular-park themselves and take over the driving duties when the car is in traffic, but today we learn that the researchers in Dearborn are working on a system that can detect a driver’s stress level or workload and automatically adjust other systems to help induce a calming effect.
The system, dubbed the Driver Workload Estimator, would build upon some systems that are already in many Ford cars, but would require the development and installation of many new features. For starters, Ford steering wheels would hold new sensors like a palm temperature sensor and heart rate monitor, as well as an infrared sensor that gauges a driver’s temperature. The system would also mount a piezoelectric sensor in the seatbelt that would check a driver’s breathing rate.
The other data would come from existing in-car systems: the estimator could read things like ambient temperature (from the automatic climate control), steering wheel angles and brake/throttle inputs (drive-by-wire), acceleration and yaw rates (traction control), traffic conditions (from an XM Traffic-linked navigation system), and speed (either GPS or the speedometer). It could also access data provided by lane-keep assist and the blind-spot information system to figure out if a car is merging into heavy traffic.
Ford says that the Driver Workload Estimator would sample data from all of these sensors or systems and then use an algorithm to answer a question: is the driver stressed, or driving into a high-stress situation? If the answer is yes, Ford says the car would trim back auxiliary systems and beef up other ones to keep the driver as focused and calm as possible. For instance, it would increase the sensitivity of the forward collision warning alerts while engaging MyFord Touch’s Do Not Disturb function, which sends all incoming calls on a Bluetooth phone to voicemail and blocks all incoming text messages from being read on the MyFord Touch screen. On the other hand, it would let the driver field phone calls or receive texts on-screen if traffic is light and the driver is calm.
There’s no mention by Ford if this system could combine with any other forthcoming system: if it could block phone calls while parking, or let a driver chat in traffic if Traffic Jam Assist is engaged. We’ll have to wait and see: the system won’t be production ready for at least a couple years.