Footsteps and bicycle bells as smart driver alerts?

The visual displays and warning tones of driver alerts help us to negotiate our daily drives. But what if such sounds simulated those made by potential hazards, so drivers could know exactly where they were coming from? 1

We are currently testing smart driver alert technology that could do exactly that, using in-car audio to clearly convey the location of other road users or pedestrians. We are also trying out intuitive sounds – such as footsteps, bicycle bells and the sound of passing cars – rather than a single tone.

“Today’s warning tones already inform drivers when they need to take care and be vigilant. Tomorrow’s technology could alert us to both exactly what the hazard is and where it is coming from.”

Oliver Kirstein, SYNC software engineer,
Enterprise Connectivity
, Ford of Europe
Initial tests revealed that drivers using Directional Audio Alerts were significantly more accurate when it came to identifying potential hazards and their position.
Our vehicles currently feature driver assistance technologies that use a suite of sensors to identify when pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles are nearby. These technologies offer visual and audible alerts and if necessary, apply emergency braking.
Directional Audio Alert takes these warnings a step further. We developed a software that uses the information from the sensors to select the appropriate sound and play it through the speaker closest to the obstacle.

Tests in a simulated environment showed that drivers alerted by Directional Audio correctly identified the nature and source of the hazard 74 per cent of the time. Even just emitting a regular tone from the appropriate speaker enabled the driver to correctly identify the location of the object 70 per cent of the time.

In real-world scenarios on the test track, participants in the tests responded positively to the footsteps sound, especially when this intuitive alert was played through a specific speaker.

In future, our engineers believe that those results might be further improved by using 3D spatial sound similar to that used in cinemas and gaming to better enable drivers to identify the source of the hazard.
This specially-developed ‘8D’ spatial sound experience highlights the role that hearing plays in our ability to identify and respond to road safety hazards.

1 Driver-assist features are supplemental to and do not replace the driver’s attention, judgement and need to control the vehicle.


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