TUESDAY, Sept. 28 (HealthDay News) -- New research from the
University of Utah suggests that a touch-based navigation system
embedded in a car's steering wheel and designed to interact with
the skin of a driver's fingertips can be an effective way to
deliver GPS-style directions.
Such a skin-contact system may prove to be a less distracting
and safer way to deliver directions than a voice-activated system,
the study authors say.
First author Nate Medeiros-Ward, a University of Utah psychology
doctoral student, was scheduled to present the team's observations
on Tuesday at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society meeting in
Lead author William Provancher, an assistant professor of
mechanical engineering at the university, said in a school news
release that "our sense of touch is currently an unexplored means
of communication in the car." A touch-based system, he said, "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."
In this experimental system, two red buttons are inserted on the
steering wheel so they are in contact with the index fingertips of
each hand. When instructing the driver to turn left, the buttons
subtly push the skin of each fingertip left; when indicating right,
the skin is pushed right.
The authors tested their touch-based navigational device
employing a driving simulator that has been used to demonstrate the
dangers of driving while texting or talking on a cell phone.
Nineteen undergraduates sat in the drivers' seats surrounded by
screens displaying images of traffic on three sides, in a setting
that simulated driving down the center lane of a three-lane
The research team found that in the absence of cell phone use,
both the traditional voice-navigation system and the touch-based
system worked equally well -- namely, about 97 percent of the
But when drivers were instructed to talk on their cell phones,
the touch-based system actually worked better: 98 percent of the
time, versus just 74 percent of the time with a voice-based
"You can't look at two things at the same time," explained co-author and psychology professor David Strayer in the news release. "You can't look at graphic display of where you should go and look out the windshield. [Touch-based information] is a nicer way to communicate with the driver without interfering with the basic information they typically need to drive safely."
The authors noted that drivers already unconsciously respond to
touch-based feedback all the time, such as when they gear-shift or
feel tire problems in the shaking of the steering wheel. They
cautioned, however, that such a system should not be a cue to
"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," Medeiros-Ward said.
The researchers are already in discussions to see whether a
specialized walking cane outfitted with a similar touch-based
device might ultimately assist the blind community.
Hearing-impaired people might also benefit from the technology,
The current technology was funded by both the University of Utah
and the National Science Foundation.
For more on safety concerns about driving while distracted,
National Highway Traffic Safety
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