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AT&T Working On GPS-Based Vibrating Steering Wheel

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On: Wed, Apr 4, 2012 at 3:50PM | By: Chris Weiss

AT&T Working On GPS-Based Vibrating Steering Wheel

It looks like cars of the future are going to rattle and shake like video game controllers. Just a few days ago, we saw the vibrating driver seat in the new Cadillac XTS. Now we have some news of another vibrating component being developed by AT&T Labs and Carnegie Mellon University.

AT&T Labs is working on a haptic steering wheel that's capable of sending vibrations based upon GPS navigation. If you need to turn right, for instance, a series of vibrations rotate clockwise around the steering wheel, prompting you to turn. The steering wheel has a series of 20 actuators integrated inside, which can vibrate in a multitude of patterns. The motors can also intensify vibrations as you get closer and closer to a given turn.

The purpose of AT&T's steering wheel is to prevent distracted driving. Rather than audio or visual cues, the system uses a simple vibration that AT&T believes is less of a distraction to drivers. A study done by Carnegie Mellon finds that the steering wheel with auditory GPS commands increases drivers' attentiveness to the road over visual mapping with auditory commands. On the downside, the steering wheel is not as effective at preventing drivers from getting lost when following GPS commands. Carnegie Mellon plans to publish the study in June.

Some automakers, particularly luxury brands, already use haptic steering wheels in safety systems like lane departure warnings, but AT&T appears to be the first to connect a haptic wheel to GPS. On the surface, haptic systems seem to use technology in a safer, more thoughtful way. Vehicle cabins are starting to overflow with safety, information and entertainment alerts, noises and visuals, which could foreseeably lead to much driver distraction. By integrating some of those technologies into a tactile system, automakers could cut down on the abundance of visual and cognitive distractions, allowing drivers to focus more attention on the road.

The steering wheel is still in the rough stages and will take years to make it to market, if indeed it is pursued to that level.


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