Appropriately dubbed the “Distraction Lab,” Ford’s Human Machine Interface Verification Laboratory has been busy at work duplicating the flighty attention span of the average teenage male. To achieve this, Ford engineers have outfitted research participants with special occlusion goggles equipped with small LCD screens programmed to track the amount of time a driver spends with his eyes on and off the road. While wearing the goggles, test subjects are asked to engage in a simulated driving course that requires them to interact with Ford’s in-car infotainment system. By observing the amount of time that any given driver spends orienting himself with (or being otherwise distracted by) the informational system as well as other outside stimuli, researchers may then determine how information should be displayed and accessed to minimize the risk of an accident.
“Occlusion testing is faster and a lot more efficient than other methods for determining eyes-off-road time and the potential for visual distraction,” explained John Shutko, Ford technical specialist in Human Factors and Ergonomics. “In the past, we used occlusion testing primarily to verify other research, but over the past couple of years we’ve been able to develop test models with the technology that allows us to rapidly complete research faster than ever before.”
Much like the principles held by their European subsidiary, Volvo, the primary objective of Ford’s exhaustive research is to accommodate drivers’ needs in the safest way possible. “Studies show voice-operated systems like SYNC offer significant safety benefits over hand-held manual devices,” says Dr. Louis Tijerina, Ford senior technical specialist. “If people are going to use nomadic devices – and there’s no reason to believe that they will stop – Ford wants to offer our customers a safer way to use them, through SYNC.”