I was involved in a discussion about driver workload management the other week. It is a fascinating topic and I can see it becoming a much more important feature of in-vehicle HMIs in the coming years. The basic concept is pretty straightforward – when a driver is in a high workload situation (e.g. driving at 70mph on a crowded freeway), the HMI adapts so that the functionality available to the driver is a lot less (e.g. new navigational route setting is limited to favourite or previous destinations).
There are two main parts of the system: detecting when the driver is in a high-workload situation, and then changing the HMI. Detection involves bringing together inputs from many existing or imminent engine control units (ECUs), e.g. speed, collision detection (to detect presence of other vehicles), driver fatigue (e.g. using the driver facing camera to detect nasal temperature, which apparently is a good indicator of driver stress!), and navigation (e.g. detecting when approaching a complex junction or a traffic incident black spot).
Changing the HMI could be as simple as disabling all unnecessary or complex functions when in a high workload situation, or it could be more granular with functionality being gradually reduced as driver workload increases. This will of course require careful HMI design – OEMs don’t want confused or annoyed drivers, if a HMI changed in unexpected way.
One of the potential uses of this technique is to enable smartphone applications in vehicles. The argument for this is that despite laws and accident statistics, many drivers will continue to use their smartphones whilst driving and hence it would be better to allow them to do this (as they will anyway), but in a safer way. Thus the HMI could allow the driver to send a text message only when stationary. Although a driver could of course circumvent this by using his cell phone directly, it may also help reinforce appropriate behaviour.
Perhaps less controversially would be to disable some in-built infotainment options and restrict more complex input to predefined or user-defined options: who really needs to set the time, configure their Pandora account, or even change their audio bass and treble whilst doing 70mph!
What is certain is that as functionality of the HMI continues to increase, addressing driver distraction in the HMI, through dynamically reducing the workload of the HMI, will become even more important, and those involved in automotive HMI across the industry have a responsibility to get together to help solve this problem.