(Source: Caffex)
Drowsy drivers will get a bit of assistance, thanks to Ford's high-tech safety initiatives

Ford Motor Comp. (F) is going hard at safeguarding its drivers -- especially the drowsy ones.  

I. Lane Keeping Tech is the Drowsy Driver's Friend

On road tiredness is a huge problem.  A recent study [PDF] by the America Automobile Association's (AAA) Foundation for Highway Safety revealed 60 percent of adults admitted to driving while drowsy, and a shocking 40 percent admit to falling asleep behind the wheel.  Ford points to another recent study by AAA, which indicated that drowsiness was estimated to cause 17 percent of fatal crashes.

Drowsy drivers will often crash when they swerve out of their lane.  To that end, Ford is deploying a trio of technologies to help avoid collisions which occur when drowsy or distracted drivers drift out of their lane.

The new "lane keeping" technology -- which will first be available on the 2012 Ford Explorer early next year -- will automatically keep the car in your lane, assuming the lane is well marked and you don't have your turn signal on.

The system takes into account many variables including vehicle speed, whether the vehicle is rounding a bend, etc.  Using a camera mounted behind the rear view mirror, Ford's system peers at the lane markers and applies steering torque to keep the car within a lane.  

Lane keeping torque

The driver will feel the adjustments as a gentle tug on the steering wheel as the torque is applied (similar to how you can "feel" the gas pedal adjust in many cars, when in cruise control).  The driver can override the system at any time by hard braking, rapid acceleration, a turn indicator, or counter-steering.

Ford calls this comprehensive technology its "Lane Keeping System".

II. Time for Some Coffee, Says the Car

The system also warns the driver first with a yellow warning popup in the instrument cluster LCD screen accompanied by a brief chime.  If the vehicle detects continued lane departure, it will sound a more alarming chime and display a red popup.  

Ford also has devised a somewhat humorous (albeit on a serious topic) warning, which tells the driver when to "get coffee".  A gauge monitors driver tiredness by watching the driver's movements on the road for signs of distraction or fatigue.  As those signs increasingly show up, a slider will go from a "driving wheel" icon to a "coffee cup" icon.  When the coffee cup icon is reached, drivers are advised to find a place to pull over, either to rest or to caffeinate themselves.

Driver alert

This part of the package is labelled the "Driver Alert System".

The final piece of the package is the "Lane Keeping Alert".  This alert offers yet another warning to drowsy/distracted drivers who are drifting out of their lane.  When it detects drift, it vibrates the wheel, warning the driver.

Via the vehicle's built in menu system, drivers can turn off certain parts of the system (e.g. turn off Lane Keeping and set their system to alert only).  

Warning level

This helps drivers select the level of intervention they feel most comfortable with -- from warnings, to actual torque application.

III. Ford Thinks Its Solution is the Best in the Industry

Ford Global Product Development Vice President of Engineering, Raj Nair lauds the new system, stating, "The Explorer is loaded with new innovations, including this new lane keeping technology that helps drivers stay in control of their vehicle if they drift out of their lane or show signs of drowsiness."

He told us during the presentation that while some luxury brands like Lexus (Toyota Motor Comp.'s (TYO:7203) luxury brand) and Infiniti (Nissan Motor Comp., Ltd.'s (TYO:7201) luxury line) have similar features, that Ford believes its system to be an industry first for an "industry first" for a standard segment vehicle.  

Further, Mr. Nair says that the system's camera is more discrete versus rival's designs, which place the camera in positions that blocks part of the road view.  
Lane keeping camera

And he says that Ford's tested its system versus its competitors and worked to offer better screening of intentional lane departures versus unintentional ones.

IV. Lane Keeping Tech Does have Its Limits

The system is not without its limits.  If the system can't see the lane markers, it turns itself off temporarily.  This could occur in bad weather -- where visibility is very poor (e.g. a blizzard); on poorly maintained highways, where the lane markers have eroded; or on country highways where it's just dirt and no lane markers.

[Source: Dee Brestin Blog]

And obviously driver-assist features make some car enthusiasts a bit squeamish.  Some would rather be the only source of input to their vehicle.  However, if these kinds of intelligent solutions can save lives, it's hard for even car-heads to argue with them.  After all, not every driver is an enthusiast driving a sporty manual.

And of course the feature will be an option, which can be turned on and off, so drivers can decide for themselves, whether they want to purchase this extra safety measure and how exactly they want to use it.

[All images are courtesy of Ford, except for the drowsy driver picture and blizzard picture.]

Source: Ford

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