Ford is trialling smart driver alert technology – in the form of visual displays and warning tones that mimic the sounds made by potential hazards – to improve road safety. Engineers are testing both the use of specific speakers to indicate the direction people and objects are approaching from, as well as trying different, intuitive sounds – bicycle bells, footsteps and vehicle noises, rather than a single tone – to warn drivers when other road users or pedestrians are nearby.
Initial tests revealed that drivers using directional audio alerts were significantly more accurate when it came to identifying potential hazards and their position.
“Today’s warning tones already inform drivers when they need to take care and be vigilant. Tomorrow’s technology could alert us to both exactly what the hazard is and where it is coming from,” said Oliver Kirstein, SYNC software engineer, Enterprise Connectivity, Ford of Europe.
How it could work
Ford vehicles currently feature driver assistance technologies that use a suite of sensors to identify when pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles are nearby. These technologies offer visual and audible alerts and if necessary, apply emergency braking.
Directional Audio Alert takes these warnings a step further. A Ford-developed software uses the information from the sensors to select the appropriate sound and play it through the speaker closest to the obstacle.
Tests in a simulated environment showed that drivers alerted by directional audio correctly identified the nature and source of the hazard 74% of the time. Even just emitting a regular tone from the appropriate speaker enabled the driver to correctly identify the location of the object 70% of the time.
Engineers also set up a real-world scenario on the test track, with a vehicle backing out of a parking space, an approaching pedestrian and the footsteps alert. Participants in the test responded positively to the footsteps sound, especially when this intuitive alert was played through a specific speaker.
In future, engineers believe that those results might be further improved by using 3D spatial sound similar to that used in cinemas and gaming to better enable drivers to identify the source of the hazard.
For further thoughts and insights on HMI and road safety alerts, read our feature on how Volvo Cars is refining a universal communication method employing sound, light and movement to ensure the intentions of future AVs are understood by other road users.