Prevention of autonomous car accidents.

Faurecia connected car interior

Even in a self-driving car, it is important for passengers to be awake and alert, just in case something goes wrong with the technology and a human needs to take over to prevent a car accident, writes Alex Davies for Wired. Stanford University’s Center for Design Research has teamed up with French automotive supplier Faurecia to research how to make riding in an autonomous car feel safe, as well as comfortable and enjoyable.

The challenge for carmakers is to design a self-driving car that keeps passengers alert at the same time as keeping them comfortable and relaxed, so the partners are focusing on car interior design that prevents such passengers from dozing off.

Automotive Fleet quotes David Sirkin of the Stanford Center for Design Research:

In partnering with Faurecia, we are taking the industry’s first steps toward anticipating and averting problems that autonomous car drivers may encounter in their transition from active controllers to multi-tasking occupants of vehicles. While the industry often considers the new technologies required to keep autonomous cars safely on course, these physiological issues will require their own approaches to vehicle design and engineering.

Driver’s Stress Level Monitored

At the recent Connected Car Expo in Los Angeles, Faurecia demonstrated a seating system called Active Wellness, which can detect a driver’s stress level and physical responses such as heart rate and breathing patterns via sensors in the seats. If the vehicle perceives that passengers are becoming drowsy, it can apply what Faurecia’s Matt Benson calls an “energizing routine” of a vigorous massage and increased ventilation.

If it sees you’ve already asleep, it can give you a good jab in the back to wake you up,” Davies wrote. If a passenger is merely stressed and not tired, the system will provide a gentle massage and a warmed up seat. Faurecia hopes to have these systems available to carmakers by 2018, Davies writes.

Eyes on the Road?

In a related article, a Stanford University study found that those in the driver’s seat of a self-driving car who were watching a video or reading were less likely to doze off than those told to watch the road, Justin Pritchard writes for Associated Press. Of 48 students who participated in the study, 13 fell asleep when told to watch the road, as opposed to only three who were told to watch a video or read from a tablet.

He wrote that there’s no consensus on the right approach. The Stanford research suggests that engaging people with media might help. Some carmakers are producing vehicles with limiting features that will slow the car if the person in the driver’s seat has stopped paying attention to the road.

Early research suggests that drivers need at last 5 seconds to take over control of an autonomous vehicle, that is if they’re not totally checked out.

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