Foot off the pedal

A consortium led by Brunel University is developing an in-car device that gathers information on how a vehicle is being driven and tells motorists how to improve their driving to make it safer and greener.

The Foot-LITE will sit on the dashboard like a Sat-Nav unit, using a collection of sensors to gather information about how the car is being driven.

Project partners include Sussex Police Authority, the Institute for Advanced Motorists, Transport for London, Nissan and TRW Conekt.

The three-year project, due to begin in July, has been awarded a £260,000 EPSRC grant.

Though modern vehicles are theoretically capable of certain performance and fuel economy figures, in practice it can be hard to achieve these due to driver behaviour such as repeated rapid acceleration that increases fuel consumption, and hard braking.

The Foot-LITE project should encourage drivers to make sustained changes to driving styles and behaviours. The aim is to make motoring safer, reduce congestion, enhance sustainability and help cut traffic pollution emissions and other social and environmental impacts of vehicle use.

Brunel will look at the human factors within the project, determining what constitutes good driving, and study the design of the dashboard display to find out how feedback might be relayed to the driver in such a way that advice is taken without causing a distraction.

‘It will determine the driver’s style, depending on the parameters that we are currently researching,’ said Mark Young of Brunel University’s School of Engineering and Design.

‘We will look at a range of factors such as what makes a safe driver and what makes an economical driver. We will have to consider which system will create the best driver response without any of the negatives — it has been likened to having a back seat driver or an advanced driving instructor in the vehicle.’

The sensors within the unit will collect and store information. Once a journey is completed, the driver will be able to download the collected data to their computer, which will analyse it and provide feedback. The in-car unit will also provide immediate feedback to help the driver improve his or her driving style.

Initial testing will take place in Brunel’s laboratories. Automotive safety specialists TRW will provide engineering expertise, while Newcastle University will contribute to the unit’s environmental aspects.

Once a design has been produced, Southampton University’s transport research group will fit a unit within its instrumented vehicle for road tests. These real-world operational experiences will be added to user feedback and evaluation. During the research, a number of smaller businesses will provide help such as sensor design.

‘We are also looking at establishing a back-office-style website that will be able to provide information on driving patterns over the course of a period of time, for instance three months,’ said Young. ‘From this you would be able to see your carbon output.’

By advising motorists how to improve their driving style, it is hoped that they can be encouraged to modify their long-term road behaviour.

Unlike some automated driving systems that have been proposed, ultimate choice and control still rests with the individual, a factor seen as crucial to the public and commercial acceptability of Foot-LITE.

The project’s ultimate aim is to produce a prototype system, which will be evaluated by fleets of drivers in normal driving conditions.

There will also be surveys of other user groups to determine the long-term effects of the system and help determine market opportunities and implementation strategies for the production of future intelligent vehicles and associated infrastructure.

The system to be developed in the project will consist of an aftermarket, standalone vehicle interface that can be fitted to existing vehicles. However, depending on its final form, installation of the device during vehicle build will not be excluded.