Haptic Assist Technology is a HAT That’s Hot!

Thinking about a new hat. How about Haptic Assisted Technology! It’s the new go-to tech in town, though no stranger to the driving experience. Older cars had a diverse tactile landscape with levers, knobs, and buttons. This landscape consisted of “anticipatory haptics”, recognized with the sense of touch, that reduces the need to look away from the road while driving. One study referenced in a recent New York Times article found that the use of manual transmission in teenagers with ADHD driver attention and safety, indicating a benefit that occurs with more engagement with driving not less.

Fast forward to today, and many vehicles are missing many traditional haptic controls. Instead, untextured buttons and smart-screens dominate.  The problem is that smart screens distract the driver’s gaze from the road and require study for content and precise finger selection. In all its forms and sizes, these screens are seductive and addictive eye candy that cause distraction and endanger the driver.

Driver assistance technologies and education can improve safety, such as lane-departure warning and blind-spot detection systems. Haptic feedback enhances these systems, such as by applying resistance to a dangerous turn in the steering wheel. A University of South Florida study found that one way to enhance blind spot detection was by sending a vibration to the hands of the driver during an unsafe lane change. Many vehicle brands depend solely on an audio or visual alert for this purpose, which may go unnoticed because of traffic complexity, road noise, and other distractions. Multi-sensory feedback that includes haptics may be more effective.

SofTrek has previously presented another type of Haptic Assist Technology that in conjunction with other systems may mitigate the danger of online distraction by keeping eyes on the road and hands on a steering wheel with haptic controls.

Consider this scenario:


Example of how menu items can correspond to the feel and position of buttons on a steering wheel.

You are driving to work in the middle highway lane on a sunny day. Your car senses the vehicles in every direction by sound waves, pattern recognition, and vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to road communication and keeps you at a full distance from other objects on the road.  You are looking at the windshield and a superimposed projection of a weather website. The format of the website includes menu items that match the position and feel of steering wheel button. You can make reading a news story online projected onto the windshield and can make selections on the web page because steering wheel buttons have tactile features that match icons on the steering wheel.  When you want to select an item, such as the weekend forecast, you press a steering wheel button that corresponds to the position and feel of the menu item. This keeps your hands on the steering wheel and eyes forward on the superimposed view of the road. Like a roadside billboard, the projection may be off to the side or not fully opaque, so that you can still see the road. Other driver assistance technologies kick in to cause abrupt disappearance of the projected website if driving conditions become complex or if an unexpected traffic event occurs. For example, a car or an object cutting into your lane would trigger automated collision warning and autonomous emergency braking.   When safety prevails, the driver can multitask and use haptic steering wheel buttons and projected menus to make phone calls, manage infotainment, navigate the internet and operate the vehicle controls.

Sound far fetched? Consider air flight and the evolution from flying kites to blasting rockets to Mars and beyond. When we consider the past and let our imagination soar, autonomous vehicles become a reasonable part of the future. Assistance technologies are part of the evolution in that direction and include a HAT worth wearing!

Imagine if autonomous vehicles looked like this!

Footnotes: Online search terms like “Haptic Assistance Technology” or “Haptic Assisted Technology”  generate a list for “Haptic Assistive Technology.” These refer to sensory substitution aids for individuals with visual. Braille, designed to help the blind, is a prime example but may have related application for the sighted, such as situations where the sense of touch is needed because of darkness or the out of the line of sight position of one’s hands.

Images from iStock photo

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