Let your fingers feel driving directions, if you don't hear them

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Washington, Sep 27 (ANI): Researchers have developed a way through which drivers can feel the directions through their fingertips if they are unable to hear them.

University of Utah study has found if drivers are busy on cell phones and don't hear spoken instructions to turn left or right from a passenger or navigation system, they still can get directions from devices that are mounted on the steering wheel and pull skin on the driver's index fingertips left or right.

The researchers say they don't want their results to encourage dangerous and distracted driving by cell phone users.

Instead, they hope the study will point to new touch-based directional devices to help motorists and hearing-impaired people drive more safely.

The same technology also could help blind pedestrians with a cane that provides directional cues to the person's thumb.

"It has the potential of being a safer way of doing what's already being done - delivering information that people are already getting with in-car GPS navigation systems," said study's lead author, William Provancher.

The system also could help hearing-impaired people get navigation information through their fingertips if they cannot hear a system's computerized voice, said Nate Medeiros-Ward of University of Utah.

"We are not saying people should drive and talk on a cell phone and that tactile [touch] navigation cues will keep you out of trouble," he said.

Provancher, Medeiros-Ward and Strayer conducted the study with Joel Cooper, who works in Texas, and Andrew Doxon, a Utah doctoral student in mechanical engineering.

Provancher said the study was based on a "multiple resource model" of how people process information, in which resources are senses such as vision, hearing and touch that provide information to the brain.

"You can only process so much. The theory is that if you provide information through different channels, you can provide more total information. Our sense of touch is currently an unexplored means of communication in the car.

"We all have visual and audio distractions when driving. Having the steering wheel communicate with you through your fingertips provides more reliable navigation information to the driver," he said.

Nineteen University of Utah undergraduate students - six women and 13 men - participated in the study by driving the simulator. The screens that surround the driver's seat on three sides displayed a scene in which the driver was in the centre lane of three straight freeway lanes, with no other traffic.

Four driving scenarios were used, each lasting six minutes and including, in random order, 12 cues to the driver to move to the right lane and 12 more to move left.

In two scenarios, the simulator drivers did not talk on cell phones and received direction instructions either from the simulator's computer voice or via the fingertip devices on the steering wheel.

In the two other scenarios, the drivers talked on cell phones with a person in the laboratory and also received direction instructions, either from the computer voice or from the touch devices on the steering wheel.

The study found that in the two scenarios without cell phones, the drivers' accuracy in correctly moving left or right was nearly identical for those who received tactile directions through their fingertips (97.2 percent) or by computerized voice (97.6 percent).

However, that changed when the drivers talked on cell phones while operating the simulator. When drivers received fingertip navigation directions while talking, they were accurate 98 percent of the time, but when they received audio cues to turn right or left while talking on a cell phone, they changed lanes correctly only 74 percent of the time.

The findings will be presented at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society's 54th annual meeting in San Francisco. (ANI)

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