Behavioral mapping: the path to a safer driving experience

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mappingNew vehicles today are sophisticated driving machines—and they’re also becoming rich sources of information. Sensors collect data about everything from how fast you’re going to when the wipers kick in. At the same time, GPS navigation systems and the high-bandwidth infrastructure built for mobile devices are making it increasingly possible to track where vehicles are and gather vast amounts of data.

What does this mean for safety? “We’re on the cusp of being able to unlock vehicle information to capture the actual behavior of drivers,” according to Jane MacFarlane, head of research with Nokia’s location and commerce business. The result—a “behavioral map”—could reveal how drivers dynamically experience and adapt to road networks, she said, and give engineers and designers insight for creating a safer driving experience.

MacFarlane, who holds master’s and doctoral degrees from the U of M, discussed how this vision could become reality at the CTS Winter Luncheon on February 28 in Minneapolis.

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The goal of Nokia’s research, MacFarlane said, is to turn vehicles into probes that “derive while you drive”—creating an “automotive cloud” of information to enhance safety and feed new product development. A test project in the Netherlands, for example, recorded data about drivers’ speed and braking patterns as they approached a sharp curve—behaviors that sometimes differed from expectations. The data will allow road engineers to make improvements for the future and help equipment manufacturers design real-time safety alerts and warnings in a format drivers can easily use.

Warnings could even reflect rapidly changing weather conditions. Sensor data—such as wipers switching to high speed—could be sent to the cloud, processed, and relayed down to approaching drivers. “If we can see what people are doing, we can learn from what they are doing and introduce alerts and warning into the systems,” MacFarlane explained.

How soon could it happen? “It’s coming,” MacFarlane said. GM announced in February that it will put 4G broadband in its vehicles, and AT&T has stated that it expects vehicle systems to become a billion dollar business for the company.

The behavioral map in action could offer insight—and commercial opportunities—in other areas as well, MacFarlane added. Some weather experts think vehicle sensors could provide better weather forecasting capability than Doppler radar. Stopped vehicles could indicate a hot new restaurant to share through social media or location-based advertising.

Arriving at the behavioral map won’t be easy, MacFarlane warned. Challenges include reaching high enough usage for drawing sound conclusions, determining ownership of the data, and ensuring data privacy. The huge amount of data alone—from all kinds of vehicles and devices, from different manufacturers with different standards—is another big challenge. The data, she concluded, has “unlimited opportunity—if we can harness it.”