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Want Stress-Free Driving? Use In-Vehicle Technology

November 19th, 2010

Ugh, parallel parking. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks it’s fun to do. And how about backing out of a parking space? Not much joy spread there either. But a nine-month advanced research project conducted by Ford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) New England University Transportation Center revealed drivers are less stressed when doing both those high-stress tasks when using selected new technological advancements.

This study is an extension of an ongoing alliance between Ford and MIT to improve driver focus, wellness and safety through the integration of vehicle technology.

Physiological measures to detect stress were monitored using a specially equipped 2010 Lincoln MKS test vehicle. Parallel parking is a highly avoided and stress-inducing driving situation for many drivers. However, use of advanced technology resulted in a more than 12 beats per minute (bpm) reduction in heart rate. These findings were strongest in the parallel parking study, where use of the Ford Motor Company Active Park Assist feature in the Lincoln MKS helped to significantly reduce stress on drivers compared to the manual operation of performing the same task. When backing out of parking spaces with the Ford Motor Company Cross-Traffic Alert, drivers were more likely to appropriately stop and yield to an approaching vehicle than when the system was unavailable.

For the past seven years, Ford has been actively collaborating with MIT’s New England University Transportation Center to understand the correlation between stressors and driving performance and identify technological advancements that both mitigate stress and create a more enjoyable experience. The research objective of this study was to measure and monitor physiological changes in heart rate during and following the completion of driving challenges, including parallel parking and backing out of a concealed parking space. Using biometric results as well as self-perception evaluations, the research measured the impact of new parking technologies on stress levels.

In the study of the Active Park Assist system, data were collected from 42 subjects equally distributed between males and females across three age groups – drivers in their 20s, 40s and 60s. Prior to testing, each of the subjects was given an in-depth briefing and demonstration of both the technology at the focus of the study as well as related systems. They then gained experience with the systems prior to the defined assessment period. For example, in the parallel parking study, subjects were given three practice opportunities to both manually parallel park and use the Active Park Assist feature to grow accustomed to the technology and experience parking the Lincoln MKS.

Following this introduction, each of the test drivers was monitored using heart rate as an objective method of assessing driver workload and stress on the road. In addition, a subjective measure was monitored by asking subjects to rate their perceived stress level at the completion of each driving maneuver. Detailed evaluations of their experience and impressions of the technology were also collected at the end of the experiment.

During the evaluation trials when drivers were anticipating engaging in a manual parking exercise, mean heart rate was 75.9 beats per minute. During the evaluation trials when drivers were anticipating parking using Active Park Assist, heart rate was 72.5, or 3.4 beats per minute lower. This indicates that prior to the physical work involved in maneuvering the steering wheel to manually park, the anticipation alone associated with undertaking the task was more stressful than when drivers were anticipating parking with Active Park Assist.

This difference is particularly notable in that it was observed in individuals who had only had the opportunity to develop experience and trust in this technology for a relatively limited period of time.

“The substantial changes in the objective physiological markers of driver stress, coupled with changes in perceived stress, suggest that the driver’s well-being can be increased through this technology,” said Bryan Reimer, associate director of research, New England University Transportation Center at MIT.

A second experiment focused on Ford’s Cross-Traffic Alert technology. Using a methodology similar to the parallel parking study, drivers were given an opportunity to experience backing out of a blinded parking spot with and without Cross-Traffic Alert. The most notable finding was that at one point in the experiment, all drivers who received a traffic alert warning from the technology stopped and yielded to an approaching vehicle, while only 71 percent of the drivers backing out without the aid of the technology appropriately stopped.

“The point of technology in a vehicle is to help the driver; it’s to serve the driver and so if there is a particular task where it’s something the driver may not be familiar with a comfortable feeling all the time and we can help, by using technology, than that’s what we’re really going to do in our vehicles,” said Jeff Greenberg, Senior Technical Leader in the Ford Research Laboratory.


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