Talking on cell phones can distract drivers from listening to driving instructions. Now, a new device when mounted on the steering wheel is capable of nudging the hands of the driver to help him take the right course of action.
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," says the study's lead author, William Provancher, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Utah.
In addition, Provancher says he is "starting to meet with the Utah Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired to better understand how our technology could help those with vision impairments. It could be used in a walking cane for the blind," with a moving button on the handle providing tactile navigation cues to help the person walk to the corner market, for example.
The system also could help hearing-impaired people get navigation information through their fingertips if they cannot hear a system's computerized voice, says University of Utah psychology Ph.D. student Nate Medeiros-Ward, the study's first author. "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."