Ford Working on “Do Not Disturb” Feature to Prevent Distracted Driving

Despite the success and outstanding capabilities of Ford's Sync and MyFord Touch in-car communications systems, the company announced that it is working to develop new technology to help combat driver distractions that can occur from using the system while the vehicle is in motion.

Jeff Greenberg, Ford's senior technical leader of research and innovation, says that while the company has worked hard to develop solutions that simplify user interface systems with stereo, navigation, and Bluetooth phone controls, there is still more that can be done to help drivers. Greenberg and Ford plan on creating a "driver workload estimator" that will hopefully reveal ways for the manufacturer to block some of the functionality of Sync and MyFord Touch functions while driving, particularly phone calls and text messages.

The automotive news website AutoBlog.com reported that the move is likely in response to a National Safety Council report stating that all cell phone use is dangerous, even if it is completely hands-free. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced federally proposed guidelines to limit the use of in-car technology that does not directly pertain to driver safety.

Greenberg says the company has already started research by developing special biometric seats, seat belts, and steering wheels that gather information from the driver, and is used to determine the amount of external demand and workload being experienced by a driver. Data gathered from these sensors, such as the driver's pulse and breathing, can then be used to create the driver workload estimation when combined with data being gathered by existing vehicle systems like radar, cameras, and throttle, brake, and steering wheel input. This allows the vehicle to compute a real-time driver workload estimator that will manage the use of in-vehicle communications.

In a highway driving situation, for example, Ford proposes that a given vehicle equipped with the system could use side-looking radar sensors used in Ford's existing Blind Sport Information System (BLIS), and the forward-looking camera for the Lane-Keeping System to constantly monitor driving conditions. If the system detects a significant amount of traffic in the lane the driver was trying to merge into, combined with data gathered on vehicle speed and throttle input, the workload estimator could then determine if an incoming call to the system should be blocked. If so, the vehicle could apply the "Do Not Disturb" feature – already in place on vehicles equipped with MyFord Touch – automatically to help the driver stay focused during intense driving situations without adding an incoming phone call to the mix of driver stressors.

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