April 11, 2008

Idea: Tactile Feedback While Driving

Car companies are coming up with new ways of making sure you’re aware of other cars in your blind spots. Using radar and special mirrors, you will soon get audible and visual warnings when cars are approaching.

But what about tactile feedback? When I drive, my hands are already on the steering wheel, so why not take advantage of that to let me feel when a car is approaching in my blind spot?

The steering wheel could be embedded with a row of nubs that protrude under your hands when they need to alert you to another car’s presence. If a car is approaching in your blind spot on the right, the nubs raise under your right hand letting you feel the car’s presence. Likewise for the left side. And the wheel could detect where you place your hands while you drive, so if you don’t keep your hands at ten and two the nubs will be active wherever you do place your hands.

With practice, it could become second nature to use the sense of touch to gather information while you drive, just like you use sight and sound already.


I like it. I like it a lot. We are long overdue for a solution to the blind-spot problem. There are people like me out there who aren’t quite coordinated enough to turn their head, register the information they see out the rear passenger side window, and turn their head back to the road without swerving awkwardly. Maybe I’m just a dumb driver but I’ve always found it difficult.

Anyway, if my steering wheel could just tell me there was somebody there, the whole problem would be avoided!


I hate you for having so many fucking amazing ideas.

(this is awesome.)

You shouldn’t be driving, it’s bad for the environment.

Cars actually have a lot of tactile response as-is.

Well, nubs are always a good idea. Of course, this would be one more thing that would cost $500 to fix the day after the warranty runs out, but I guess there’s no stopping progress.

That is just great! I’d love to buy one. I always have a problem with that, especially since I almost caused a crash at 90km/h (about 55mph) because someone got into my blind spot…

There’s already quite a bit of “feel” in the wheel. I’m not sure if it could be distinct enough to really be useful.

That said, I’m not against the idea. It’d just be hard to find the right feel for expressing it.

Actually, not sure it *is* a good idea. The comment above mine reminds me the best solution is to look, and tactile response isn’t going to change that. It might, however, cause more people to not look.

Why not have the rumble like on video game controllers? You’ve already got the teenagers, twenty-somethings, and thirty-somethings who know about rumblings and who know what it means.

It does seem like an interesting idea, but what about people that drive with only one hand?

Also, nothing beats actually looking at the spot to see whether or not some other car is there, and, like Mr. Fisher stated, it may cause more people not to look.

The problem with relying on advanced technology to give us crucial feedback that can make the difference between a simple change of lane and a deadly car crash is that there’s always a pretty healthy chance of us finding out way too late (ie. when you’ve already destroyed your car and somebody else’s, quite possibly hurting someone in the process). I believe that is why, with all the technological advancements we’ve seen ever since the invention of the motor vehicle, we still rely on eyesight and hearing to provide all the feedback necessary to drive as safely as we possibly can.

Why not use haptic radar?

I’d much rather have my car tickle my balls a little.

+1 on the rumble pack for the steering wheel idea - that was exactly what I thought of when I read this.

I think that this is a problem with visibility and the most natural solution involves a visible signal. I’d like to see a heads up display projected on the corners of my windshield showing the blind spots as though they were reflections. I think that’s about the most natural way to do this. More simply, indicator lights would still have a more natural connection than wheel feedback.

I think that this is a problem with visibility and the most natural solution involves a visible signal. I’d like to see a heads up display projected on the corners of my windshield showing the blind spots as though they were reflections. I think that’s about the most natural way to do this. More simply, indicator lights would still have a more natural connection than wheel feedback.

That’s a brilliant idea! Man, someone should really be paying you for this stuff…

The cost and reliability (rather, utter lack of) problems are huge here.

(Plus, the wheel has to be Very Strong in order to both function and be safe in a collision [to not break and impale or cut you, for instance], and can’t be made too much thicker, for reasons of gripability.

There are physical constraints that make it difficult, even if it could be affordable and reliable, which seems unlikely anytime soon.)

False positives must be avoided, or people will simply ignore the feedback.

A simple light in the side-mirror that illuminates (much like the turn-signals) when someone’s in your blind spot would be superior in every practical respect - or, like Dan suggests, cameras, perhaps with displays at the lower corners of the windshield, as concept cars often handle their mirror-equivalents.

As someone else mentioned, it’s far easier, cheaper, and more effective to look.

If the information cannot be processed quickly enough by looking, then either the lane-change maneuver needs to be delayed or the information acquirement (i.e. looking) needs to be done sooner.

That would be a great solution for the deaf-blind drivers out there.

I kid.
I am deaf, though, so I hope there is always a visual and/or tactile alternative for every audible aid.

I don’t like this idea.

I don’t like this idea. It’s not intuitive at all, I don’t want my steering wheel shaking for any other reason that the road is uneven under me.

Why not just use the haptic-IR style devices suggested by Gar to make it so the car just won’t let you merge into another car? Instead of it alerting the wearer, it just won’t let the car go there. … although snow could be a bitch.

Or it could just slow how quickly you merged.

When I drive, my hands are already on the steering wheel

…well, that already makes you safer than about 70% of drivers, so I don’t think you need to be inventing any new safety features :)

You may find it interesting to know, it’s not always a good idea to keep your hands at ten and two. At police driving school, they teach you how to drive with your hands at the lower half of the steering wheel (around seven and five).

This is supposed to protect your arms from the exploding airbag during a collision, preventing them from being pushed into the window on your left or the face of a passenger on your right.

It’s good to read your ‘tactile feedback system’ takes such alternate hand positions into account.

Haptic radar seems like the first step in any of a number of possible solutions to this problem. One thing I was thinking of was the tensile feedback you get with many racing arcade games, where the steering wheel tenses up when colliding with another object. Something similar that tenses your wheel when you get close to another object might be helpful. Another possibility is some sort of proximity alert that is tuned to go off when you get extremely close to another object in your blind spots at potentially hazardous speeds, so it won’t go off when you pull up 3 inches from the car in front of you when parallel parking (though perhaps in back?).

In addition, related to the 10 & 2 position:

Hate it. Much more comfortable at 4 & 8.

And off-topic: Checking “Remember personal info” seems broken.

That’s a very creative idea. How about user customizable ringtones that would play when someone comes too close?

The Star Trek computer voice would be a good one, Ricky Gervais, it’s unlimited!

The Lost in Space robot.

Warning Warning… Danger

I can already imagine my steering wheel throbbing away at me the entire time I’m in heavy traffic.

No thanks.

I’m with Zac on this one. If you’ve ever had to drive in a city like Chicago during rush hour you’d hate this idea faster than you can curse the constant construction.

Nubs and rumbling would be non stop and would eventually become so consistent that you would begin to ignore them.

I have the ad campaign for this device already: Something Wicked This Way Comes

Why don’t we just put a wide-angle section on the side mirror, the way trucks have had for decades?

The haptic radar-type systems seem like a way better solution, since your hands are already accepting feedback for steering and throttle for manual-transmission cars.

Idea submission: I would love to see devices (like a car) begin to provide the operators with new sensory input, as appropriate to the device. For a car that could be spacial awareness as you mention, status updates for speed, direction, temp, fuel, oil pressure, etc. I envision these more as a wireless neural connection to the device rather than using a proxy like our hands or feet. In the future I’d even like to see new virtual “appendages” that you control without using your normal ones - for a car, that would probably be steering and speed. The brain would have to learn to use the new virtual appendages and sensory systems for a device, but imagine all the possibilities!

I didn’t read this whole article, but just to show that work in this area is already in progress: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/08/020820071329.htm

When I read this article yesterday for the first time I got a mega feeling of synchronicity. As not more than 30 minutes before I was driving in my car and thought to myself “wow, how many devices, machines etc. do humans use that requires our hands and feet to work in concert, not many” (Especially with a stick shift driving on a curvy road.)

The reason for the synchronicity was because, as I was thiking about how we use our hands and feet to drive. Why don’t we interface with our car in more ways. I thought the next step in controlling some of the functions of a vehicle will be similar to what Nate said above (beat me to it). However, instead of using brainwaves, use muscle feedback. Similar to what people do now with prosthetic arms. They flex their pectoral muscle and a mechanical arm moves, and a slightly different muscel and the mechanical arm opens or closes. The same principal could be applied to flexing your left pec and the left turn signal goes on (and right for right). Maybe muscle feedback to change the radio station, or answer a phone call. That way you don’t have to take your hands off the steering wheel, as often.

Regarding the tactical feedback: I think it would work better if there were two rumble packs installed in your seat, rather than the steering wheel. On the left and right side, near where your mid-thigh would sit. This would work better for bucket seats (found commonly in sport cars) but would work in normal seats too. Seats already have adjustable lumbar support the same concept could be applied to get the rumble packs in the correct leg location. They could also be designed so one will only rumble when the corresponding turn signal is actually on. This will avoid constant rumble-mania, in large cities, with crowed freeways (although a massage seat would be nice too)

Whoa, I just saw a banner ad last week for a similar system in the Audi A8. (I usually ignore ads, but this one was shaking back and forth violently. Super annoying, but apparently effective!)

Here’s an article I googled up – see the 5th paragraph down.

Oddly, it only looks like the Audi vibrates the steering wheel when you drift out of lanes, and instead uses LEDs near the side mirrors to warn about cars in your blind spots.

Love your idea of morphing nubs!

Forget vibration, how about abusing the power steering system to gently add resistance when turning toward a car that’s already there? It would let you “feel” a virtual force field around objects while the vehicle is in motion.

The same technique could be applied for advanced assisted-driving systems to help keep people in their lane.

I have to take a driving exam for employment and will be asked to make a three way turn (Y-turn or K turn) Does NAtone know what this is?

Hello everyone, I have to take a driving exam for employement and will be asked to make a thre way turn(y-turn or k-turn). Does anyone know what this is?

I think this will result in over stimulation. I find after a long drive I’m tired so more stimulation is a bad thing… it should be about how to make the drive more relaxing.

I would rather consider blind spots grouped together into a bigger picture. Cameras and radar all around combined into a HUD (heads up display) that allows me to easily see blind spots as well as those overtaking me, and deceleration ahead of me. Software adjustable for minimalist, highway, rush-hour, driveway modes. (Pop on a wifi mesh network to get more information on up coming traffic conditions from other vehicles)