Ford tests intuitive sounds like footsteps and bicycle bells as Smart Driver Alerts.

Ford tests intuitive sounds like footsteps and bicycle bells as Smart Driver Alerts.

Photo: Ford

Safety tests of a new technology in a simulated environment showed that drivers alerted by Directional Audio correctly identified the nature and source of the roadway hazard 74% of the time.

Ford Motor Company is conducting the trials on its smart driver alert technology, which simulates sounds made by potential hazards and allows drivers to know exactly where they are coming from.

Specifically, the automaker’s engineers are exploring an innovative use of in-car audio speakers to clearly convey the location of other road users or pedestrians. In addition, they are testing the use of intuitive sounds — like footsteps, bicycle bells, and passing vehicles — rather than a single tone.

The technology holds promise for reducing crashes. Initial tests revealed that drivers using Directional Audio Alerts were significantly more accurate when it came to identifying potential hazards and their position.

Presently, Ford vehicles 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.

But if all goes as planned, in the future Directional Audio Alert will take these warnings a step further. A Ford-developed software uses the information from the sensors to select the appropriate sound and play it through the speaker closest to the obstacle.

Ford engineers set up a scenario on the 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 intuitive alert was played through a specific speaker.

Researchers believe the safety gains might be even greater by using 3-D spatial sound similar to that used in cinemas and gaming to better enable drivers to identify the source of the hazard.

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