June 5, 2010 When the steering wheel starts vibrating strongly, your car is too close to the edge of the road. WayPilot, a new Norwegian product, helps to keep it where it should be in the driving lane.
The vehicle industry has long been keen on developing driver support technology, and several general-purpose systems are on the market, either as add-ons or installed in new cars. Examples of such systems include driving lane aids that warn the driver if his vehicle leaves the lane without the blinker being activated -- as can happen when the driver nods off. Safety equipment of this sort has reduced both collisions and cases of driving off the road.
"What many of these systems have in common is that they utilise video-cameras to orient themselves with respect to the road," says SINTEF research manager Terje Moen. "The disadvantage of such systems is that during the winter, snow and dirt can cover the road markings, leaving them fairly useless. Worn or non-existent marking also put video-based systems out of action. This Norwegian product deals with the problem in a unique way."
Tested in vehicle simulator
In 2004, the Arendal company WayPilot started to develop systems for driving lane support and for warning drivers when their vehicle was unintentionally being allowed to leave a marked lane. SINTEF joined the project two years later, using its vehicle simulator to evaluate how WayPilot interacts with the driver.
The safety package comprises antennae installed in the base of the car's door openings, and RFID transponders, which are a type of radio transceiver moulded into robust plastic casings that are buried under the top asphalt layer on the road.
"As part of a project together with the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, WayPilot and Innovation Norway, SINTEF tested WayPilot on a group of 20 subjects, using the SINTEF/NTNU driving simulator. The main objective of the test series was to identify the best method of warning the driver, but we also looked at the robustness of the technology involved, as well as the market potential of the product," says Moen.
The original idea was that a warning that the vehicle was about to leave its lane would be given by a smartphone, but in the simulator trials, other methods such as vibration of the driver's seat or the steering wheel were also tested.
"The subjects found that a vibration warning system was better than a mobile warning, and they ranked steering wheel vibration ahead of vibration of the seat," says Moen.
The Public Roads Administration has installed RFID transponders on the stretch of test road between Melhus and Sandmoen near Trondheim. Now, they need to evaluate the need for larger-scale installations on Norwegian highways.
"What is interesting about this product is that it can be developed to compete with highway dividers. If it is linked to the steering wheel, a sort of electronic barricade that actually simulates a divider can be built into the highway, and the system can be retrofitted to existing vehicles," says Moen.
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