A prototype steering wheel, jointly developed by researchers at communications company AT&T and Carnegie Mellon University, America, can inform a driver’s steering through ‘haptic feedback’ (Mashable Tech).
Haptics is the study of touch, and haptic feedback is when a device directs a sensation at a person – an example is a vibrating smartphone.
According to the Mashable Tech report, the steering wheel is embedded with a series of tiny motors, and as a driver gets closer to a turn, the motors cause the steering wheel to vibrate with increasing frequency in either a clockwise or counter clockwise pattern, depending on the turn.
Kevin Li, the AT&T researcher who developed the wheel, says that these vibration patterns trigger a ‘human perception trick’ which causes the brain to sense a number of discrete vibrations as a continuous line of motion. Therefore, the driver doesn’t just feel a vibrating steering wheel, but actually senses a clockwise or counter clockwise motion, which causes them to instinctively turn the wheel in that direction.
As such, the steering wheel has the potential to attract the attenion of a driver who has their eyes off the road or lost concentration.
Li says: “Interestingly, this (the steering wheel) seemed to overload the senses of older drivers, but for younger drivers, eyes off the road as a proportion of driving time decreased by about 10%.”
The same sensory trick that causes discrete vibrations to feel like a continuous line can also be used to convey other, more complex types of information to drivers. For example, the researchers are working on a haptic seat that lets drivers ‘feel’ a car pass through a blind spot. This sensory trick would allow the vibrations to tell drivers where a car is, and how it is moving in relation to them.
Click here to read the full Mashable Tech story.