Research conducted by Ford Motor Company and the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) New England University
Transportation Center (NEUTC) shows drivers are less stressed when using
selected new technological advancements in the car.
The nine-month study was part of a continuing alliance
between Ford and MIT to improve driver focus, wellness and safety through the
integration of vehicle technology.
"Ford's collaboration with MIT and NEUTC is an
important pathway to the future of transportation," said Joe Coughlin,
director of MIT's New England University Transportation Center. "This
study, which yielded significant results, showed ways we can use new technology
to improve well-being and performance behind the wheel."
The study monitored drivers as they performed perceived
"high-stress" tasks such as parallel parking and backing out of
parking spaces with restricted visibility. The results showed a reduction in
both self-reported stress levels and objective physiological measures used to
monitor driver stress load.
The findings were strongest in the parallel parking study, where
use of Ford's Active Park Assist feature in the Lincoln MKS helped to
significantly reduce stress on drivers compared to the manual operation of
performing the same task.
When backing out of parking spaces with Cross-Traffic Alert,
drivers were more likely to stop and yield to an approaching vehicle than when
the system was unavailable.
Today's consumers are seeking every edge they can in the
pursuit of healthier and happier lives, yet record levels of stress are being
reported. According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, people in their
late 30s to mid-50s are actually reporting the lowest state of well-being over
their lifetimes. Just as stress builds
up incrementally throughout the day, taking proactive steps to decrease stress
is important to counterbalance and maintain overall well-being.
"The fact is that middle-aged Americans are at the
highest point of stress and unfortunately at the lowest point of well-being in
their entire life span," said Coughlin. "The volume, velocity and the
complexity of today's lifestyle is causing individuals to report an increase in
stress and a decrease in enjoyment behind the wheel."
For the past seven years, Ford and MIT's New England
University Transportation Center have been collaborating to understand the
correlation between stressors and driving performance and identify
technological advancements that both mitigate stress and create a more
The research objective of the study was to measure and
monitor physiological changes in heart rate during and following the completion
of driving challenges, including parallel parking and backing out of a
concealed parking space. Using biometric results as well as self-perception evaluations,
the research measured the impact of new parking technologies on stress levels.
In the study of Ford's Active Park Assist system, data were
collected from 42 people equally distributed between males and females across
three age groups -- drivers in their 20s, 40s and 60s. Prior to testing, each
of the subjects was given an in-depth briefing and demonstration of both the
technology at the focus of the study as well as related systems.
They then gained experience with the systems prior to the
defined assessment period. For example, in the parallel parking study, drivers
were given three practice opportunities to both manually parallel park and use
Ford's Active Park Assist feature to grow accustomed to the technology and
experience parking the Lincoln MKS.
Physiology of driving
Following this introduction, each of the test drivers was
monitored using heart rate as an objective method of assessing driver workload
and stress on the road. In addition, a subjective measure was monitored by
asking subjects to rate their perceived stress level at the completion of each
driving maneuver. Detailed evaluations of their experience and impressions of
the technology were also collected at the end of the experiment.
"The test subjects averaged more than 12 beats per
minute lower heart rate when using the Active Park Assist system compared to
manually parallel parking the vehicle in what was a highly statistically
significant decrease," said Bryan Reimer, associate director of research,
New England University Transportation Center at MIT. "The substantial
changes in the objective physiological markers of driver stress, coupled with
changes in perceived stress, suggest that the driver's well-being can be
increased through this technology."
Data from the initial 10-second anticipatory period prior to
initiating the functional maneuvering of parking also had relevant results.
During this period, there was a moderate but highly significant difference in
heart rate depending on whether the driver was about to use Active Park Assist
or park manually.
Manual vs. tech
During the evaluation trials when drivers were anticipating
engaging in a manual parking exercise, mean heart rate was 75.9 beats per
minute. During the evaluation trials when drivers were anticipating parking
using Active Park Assist, heart rate was 72.5, or 3.4 beats per minute lower.
This indicates that prior to the physical work involved in maneuvering the
steering wheel to manually park, the anticipation alone associated with
undertaking the task was more stressful than when drivers were anticipating
parking with Active Park Assist.
This difference is particularly notable in that it was
observed in individuals who had only had the opportunity to develop experience
and trust in this technology for a relatively limited period of time.
"While more than 76 percent of the participants
indicated that the Active Park Assist system made it easier for them to
parallel park, developing a better understanding of the participants' other
responses can provide important insight into how further gains in technology
adoption and stress reduction can be obtained," said Bruce Mehler,
research scientist at New England University Transportation Center at MIT and a
Dev Kochhar, technical expert at Ford Research &
Advanced Engineering, said the research findings are important "because they
provide evidence that, in real-world situations, drivers can adjust to new
technology when it is designed with the user in mind, and presented in a
A second experiment focused on Ford's Cross-Traffic Alert
technology. Using a methodology similar to the parallel parking study, drivers
were given an opportunity to experience backing out of a blinded parking spot
with and without Cross-Traffic Alert.
The most notable finding was that at one point in the
experiment, all drivers who received a traffic alert warning from the
technology stopped and yielded to an approaching vehicle, while only 71 percent
of the drivers backing out without the aid of the technology appropriately
"A meaningful take-away from this work is how objective measurement techniques, such as heart rate monitoring with a high level of sensitivity to changes in stress, can deepen our understanding of the extent to which individuals trust and are comfortable working with new technologies," said Reimer. "This represents an important step in enhancing the design of future technology, improving safety, minimizing stress and contributing to well-being."