Directional Audio Alerts put safety in the driving seat

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Ford is carrying out tests on Directional Audio Alerts, a system that simulates sounds made by potential hazards, such as footsteps made by pedestrians or a ringing bell from an oncoming bicycle.

According to Ford, this system would use in-vehicle speakers to let drivers to know the direction from which potential hazards are coming from.

Initial tests revealed that drivers using Directional Audio Alerts were significantly more accurate when it came to identifying potential hazards and their position. “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,” said Oliver Kirstein, SYNC software engineer, Enterprise Connectivity, Ford of Europe.

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Ford 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. Now, Ford-developed software uses the information from the sensors to select the appropriate sound and play it through the speaker closest to the obstacle.

Directional Audio Alerts
(Image: Ford Motor Company)

Ford said 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. Engineers also set up a real-world scenario on a test track, with a vehicle backing out of a parking space, an approaching pedestrian and the footsteps alert. Participants in the test responded positively to the footsteps sound, especially when this alert was played through a specific speaker.  Looking forward, engineers at Ford 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.