Stop yakking and look at the road
Written by Kay Ewbank   
Tuesday, 10 May 2011

An automated system could cut down on driving accidents caused by people using hands-free phones to hold conversations.

Would you trust someone else’s program to decide when it was safe for you to talk on the phone while driving? 

Many countries and US states ban drivers from making calls on handheld mobile phones while driving, but even hands-free calls cause a rise in problems.

In a paper titled titled “Hang on a Sec! Effects of Proactive Mediation of Phone Conversations While Driving” being presented at this week’s 2011 ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems a Microsoft Research team suggests that an automated ‘mediation’ system could cut down on accidents and problems while driving caused by people using hands-free phones to hold conversations.

Despite the growing evidence that activities such as talking on the phone reduce driver concentration, people are going to continue multitasking, according to Shamsi Iqbal, one of the authors of the report: 

"If we can't stop phone conversations during driving, we need to take the behavior into consideration when making design decisions to improve safety. We know about human cognitive abilities and their limitations, so we should leverage that knowledge to develop solutions to make driving safer."

The Microsoft team set up a simulated mediation system that uses audible messages to interrupt the phone conversations and to alert drivers of potential problems in the road ahead such as a residential neighbourhood with children playing, or an area of heavy traffic. The team tested various options including playing a short message telling the driver 'focus needed' and more informative messages such as 'construction ahead' or 'turn ahead'. In half the tests, the call was then automatically put on hold for between 10 and 25 seconds.

 

stism

Participant driving the STISIM simulator.  The driver uses a speaker phone system (center left) to converse with the remote caller (inset).

In the tests the drivers missed fewer turns and had fewer simulated accidents, and the lead researcher, Eric Horvitz, said that a large car company has expressed an interest in the research. Horvitz predicts that computer-safety assistants could become commonplace within five years.

The tricky bit, of course, is how the program decides you need to concentrate. The researchers are optimistic that such systems will be able to make use of data on the weather, road traffic reports and accident blackspots, but such material generally lags behind real-time, as anyone reading roadside traffic signs telling you of 'queues ahead' on completely clear roads will know. Horvitz is optimistic though:

"I believe that computing technologies will one day drastically reduce the nearly 40,000 driving-related fatalities we have each year in the U.S. alone."

It seems to me, though, that Microsoft Research has only looked at the bit that's easy. Creating an app to shout at the driver is easy, let's face it most passengers manage to do that bit. It's noticing the big lorry in the first place that's tricky. And as a programmer, would you trust a computer program to work out when traffic conditions are getting so tricky you should just concentrate on the road?

More information:

Hang on a Sec! Effects of Proactive Mediation of Phone Conversations While Driving

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Despite the growing evidence that activities such as talking on the phone reduce driver concentration, people are going to continue multitasking, according to one of the authors of the report. Shamsi Iqbal said “If we can’t stop phone conversations during driving, we need to take the behavior into consideration when making design decisions to improve safety. We know about human cognitive abilities and their limitations, so we should leverage that knowledge to develop solutions to make driving safer.”

The Microsoft team set up a simulated mediation system that uses audible messages to interrupt the phone conversations and to alert drivers of potential problems in the road ahead such as a residential neighbourhood with children playing, or an area of heavy traffic. The team tested various options including playing a short message telling the driver  ‘focus needed’ and more informative messages such as ‘construction ahead’ or ‘turn ahead’. In half the tests, the call was then automatically put on hold for between 10 and 25 seconds.

In the tests the drivers missed fewer turns and had fewer simulated accidents, and the lead researcher, Eric Horvitz, said that a large car company has expressed an interest in the research. Horvitz predicts that computer-safety assistants could become commonplace within five years.

The tricky bit, of course, is how the program decides you need to concentrate. The researchers are optimistic that such systems will be able to make use of data on the weather, road traffic reports and accident blackspots, but such material generally lags behind real-time, as anyone reading roadside traffic signs telling you of ‘queues ahead’ on completely clear roads will know. Horvitz  is optimistic, though: “I believe that computing technologies will one day drastically reduce the nearly 40,000 driving-related fatalities we have each year in the U.S. alone.”

So would you trust a computer program to work out when traffic conditions are getting so tricky you should just concentrate on the road?

 

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 10 May 2011 )
 
 

   
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