Keeping your eyes on the road is a basic rule of the road and preliminary findings from a University of Windsor study measuring how well drivers do it show that attention is diverted when vehicles are under the control of systems automated driver assistance.
The $319,000 study is being conducted by associate professor of kinesiology Francesco Biondi and associate professor of electrical engineering Balakumar Balasingam, who plan to publish their final report this summer.
“What the preliminary findings show is that drivers may be more disconnected from the task of driving when autopilot is on,” said Biondi, who along with Balasingam oversee the school’s Human Systems Lab, which studies how humans they interact with machines and automation.
“The extent to which these systems cause people to go offline because there is a false sense of security might be more concerning. When you’re driving manually, you have to be much more engaged.”
This information may be useful beyond the automotive industry.
The driving portion of the study has been going on since September using the university’s recently purchased Tesla 3 car. The two researchers recruited 30 volunteer drivers from the university to take the Tesla on round trips from the school to the Essex County line with Chatham-Kent along Highway 401.
Drivers manually drive one way and put the car on autopilot for the other half of the trip.
The study is being funded by grants from the Ontario Ministry of Transport ($121,000), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada ($87,000) and the US firm Dreyev ($26,000), which makes devices to monitor the driver distractions.
The university’s faculties of engineering and human kinetics and other research laboratories are also supporting the project financially and with in-kind contributions.
Biondi said he believes this is the first study of its kind to compare driver attention across different driving modes in Canada. He said they hope to wrap up the tests in the next two weeks after they’ve collected enough data to form preliminary conclusions from the roughly 50 roundtrips that have been completed.
Biondi noted that another interesting finding has been how drivers reacted to how automated driving systems handle unexpected changes in the road.
“There was some roadwork going on and it was interesting how we saw the drivers freak out when the car transitioned from the normal road to the roadworks section,” Biondi said.
“They trusted the system until then and suddenly when the car lost lane markings and its behavior became more radical or unpredictable than before, drivers freaked out.”
Each driver has been accompanied by an investigator in the back seat who ensures that the various monitoring devices are working.
Among those systems are those that monitor the driver’s eyes, pupil dilation, gaze, alertness, and blink rates. Drivers will also use some monitoring devices to measure things like heart rate.
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The information gathered from the study will be shared so that the automotive industry can improve its assisted-driving automation systems. The Ministry of Transport plans to use the findings to improve driver training and shape future policy regarding automated driver assistance systems.
“This information can be useful beyond the automotive industry,” Biondi said. “It can be used everywhere: insurance, military, mining, healthcare… wherever there is a use for autonomous vehicles.
“The insurance industry is certainly interested in the extent to which vehicle technology is responsible for an accident.
“These findings look at the full effect that overconfidence in automation has on people who become more relaxed and less aware.”