DEARBORN, MI – Researchers at Ford's advanced driving simulator, Virtual Test Track Experiment (VIRTTEX), are devoting much of 2008 to study how active safety technologies in vehicles should alert drivers of potentially dangerous driving incidents. Ford also conducted customer driving clinics to test warning systems for its new backup system, the Cross Traffic Alert with Blind Spot Monitoring warning system, which alerts drivers backing out of a parking space when traffic is approaching from the sides.

The system will debut early next year and has three warnings — a flashing red light on the side mirror, an audible alert, and a written warning on the instrument panel's message center. The system makes its debut in early 2009.

"New technologies, such as radar, cameras, lasers, and GPS, will enable us to offer more safety and convenience features in the future," said Jeff Rupp, manager, Active Safety, Research, and Advanced Engineering at Ford's Research and Innovation Center. "A key is identifying the kinds of warnings that drivers will find both effective and easy to understand."

This year, VIRTTEX, which debuted in 2001 as the first full-motion driving simulator in North America, is being devoted to studying and developing active safety warning systems. Ford already has studied a number of warnings by leveraging its global active safety expertise in North America and Europe.

For example, Ford recently used VIRTTEX to examine driver preferences and reaction times with advanced early-warning systems such as Forward Collision Warning, a radar based system designed to help avoid or mitigate the effect of rear end collisions. The study concluded that certain warning systems may elicit a faster reaction time for distracted drivers.

Ford continues to research numerous types of warnings — including audible, visual, and tactile or vibrating warnings — and whether they are most effective alone or in combinations. The work will help determine how soon before a possible incident warnings should be used, how intense they need to be, and specific patterns of the warnings. Research to date has shown drivers respond more quickly to certain audible alerts that are more intense, thus more authoritative. Early research also shows some preference for a combination of warnings — audio alerts backed up by visual warning reinforcement.

Ford also is studying the optimal moment to warn a driver in a potentially dangerous situation. Initial studies show early warnings can be useful for distracted drivers, but can frustrate attentive drivers by warning of dangers they've already anticipated.

Ford is developing active technologies that ultimately may evolve into systems that warn drivers of potentially unsafe conditions and, if they do not act, automatically intervene to help avoid accidents. Ford leading active safety technologies and research include:

  • AdvanceTrac with RSC.
  • Collision Mitigation with braking.
  • Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership.

Originally posted on Automotive Fleet