We hear a lot about the dangers of distracted driving, but having a phone conversation while driving on a rural freeway is clearly less of a problem than dialing a colleague while turning left onto a busy six-lane avenue. What if your car could limit distractions when road conditions were genuinely demanding? This is the idea behind workload management, an area of intense research among most automakers.
It starts with determining when the driver’s workload is piling up. One way is to measure the driver’s heart rate and respiration using sensors on the steering wheel and seatbelt. Although accurately measuring these parameters is difficult, Steven Feit, chief engineer for infotainment research at Honda R&D Americas, says, “We can capitalize on the knowledge that the amount and speed of respiration is different for cognitive load and anxiety.”
Another way of determining driver workload is by monitoring inputs. “We determine the driver’s busyness by monitoring the frequency and magnitude of control inputs compared to a baseline,” says Dimitar Filev, executive technical leader in intelligent control systems at Ford.