Using 'Driving Simulator' Microsoft Research Exploring How Computer-based Systems can Enhance Drivers' Safety

In a new study, Microsoft Research (MSR) scientists have found that computers might one day improve safety by steering a driver's attention away from a phone call and back on the road when conditions demand it. The MSR team is presenting its paper, Hang on a Sec! Effects of Proactive Mediation of Phone Conversations While […]

In a new study, Microsoft Research (MSR) scientists have found that computers might one day improve safety by steering a driver's attention away from a phone call and back on the road when conditions demand it. The MSR team is presenting its paper, Hang on a Sec! Effects of Proactive Mediation of Phone Conversations While Driving, this week at the 2011 ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

The research is rooted in the fact that multitasking behind the wheel, whether texting or talking on the phone, will likely continue, said study co-author Shamsi Iqbal, an MSR researcher who studies human attention and multitasking.

"The team set out to explore ways to help drivers better manage their attention when they're on the phone. They designed a simulated mediation system that used auditory messages to interrupt phone conversations and alert drivers of upcoming stretches of road that were demanding or potentially dangerous. Volunteers participated in pairs. One person would be driving in a high-fidelity simulator on a virtual route with varying levels of complexity including construction zones, heavy traffic and residential areas. The other person would ask questions that forced drivers to solve problems and recall information, like when was the last time they bought gas. Whenever road conditions turned tricky and required the driver's attention, the mediation system would cut in and alert both the driver and the caller, and at times even temporarily place the conversation on hold.

The result: the system significantly cut down on the rate of missed turns and (virtual) accidents. The researchers also studied how people responded to the automatic mediator interrupting their conversations. In general, drivers thought the system was helpful. "The prompts to pay attention were surprisingly useful. Wish I had them in my current auto system," one volunteer told the researchers."

[Source: Microsoft Press]