KU News Release

June 11, 2012
Contact: Joe Monaco, KU News Service, 785-864-7100

KU research on distracted driving, wireless automobile devices to be featured at tech conference

LAWRENCE – University of Kansas research on distracted driving and wireless automobile technology will get top billing at a major mobile technology convention this week.

Greg Thomas, professor of design and director of the KU Center for Design Research, will deliver a keynote address June 13 at the Connected World Conference, a three-day convention for technology consumers, companies and entrepreneurs, in St. Charles, Ill. The conference begins June 11 and runs through June 13.

Thomas will discuss distracted driving – the all-too-common phenomenon in which drivers get distracted by their high-tech toys – and highlight KU research designed to help drivers keep their eyes on the road.

In addition to his keynote, Thomas will represent KU at the conference’s Distracted Driving Pavilion, a showcase of the latest in automobile technology, on the convention floor. The show floor will include technology displays from blue chippers Chrysler, Audi, Cadillac, Chevy, Nissan and Porsche. Other companies slated to display products during the event include Apple, Kodak, Samsung and Sony.

“KU will be on the show floor, surrounded by the coolest cars and wireless technologies on the market – and some futuristic technologies that haven’t yet made it to market,” Thomas said. “This is the perfect venue to showcase KU research to companies, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and consumers, and it’s a great opportunity for the KU Center for Design Research to continue making a name for itself in the area of distracted driving and wireless technologies.”

So far, much of the CDR’s distracted driving research has focused on Adaptive Information Displays – or “smart dashboards” – designed to minimize distractions and maximize the amount of time drivers focus on the road.

“Automakers are adding more bells and whistles to modern cars, and they’re adding them to standardized, non-customizable dashboards that don’t adjust for different drivers or conditions,” Thomas said. “By not integrating all components into a customizable, easy-to-read, ergonomically centric console, the auto industry continues to add to the safety issues relating to distracted driving. That’s what we’re trying to address with these smart dashboards.”

How smart can the dashboard be? By integrating Bluetooth, Wifi, flash drives, GPS and other technologies, the smart dash could potentially tell the difference between city and rural environments, nighttime and daytime driving, and dry pavement versus ice-covered roads. The instrument information could change size and shape accordingly – and even disappear or become prominent depending on input by various sensors and other tracking devices.

“For example, we could have gas tank gauges that are displayed small when your tank is full, but get larger and brighter as you get close to empty,” Thomas said. “Or we could have speedometers that know what the speed limit is on a particular road and change colors if you’re driving too fast or too slow. Essentially, the dashboard display would adjust to environmental factors, which would make it easier and safer to read. It would maximize or minimize information depending on what the driver needs most at any given moment.”

Click here to hear Thomas discuss KU research and the Connected World Conference with radio host Peggy Smedley of Connected World magazine.

Thomas will be accompanied at the conference by Chelsie Hadlock, a KU graduate student in cognitive psychology who will also present research on distracted driving.

The CDR was launched in 2011 to foster interdisciplinary collaboration in the research and development of “smart” technology and consumer products and services. The CDR’s distracted driving research has brought together KU researchers from engineering, design and cognitive psychology, resulting in some truly multidisciplinary ideas and solutions. The CDR is part of the School of Architecture, Design and Planning but is open to faculty and students in all KU schools and departments.

Funding for the CDR’s distracted driving research and Connected World Conference attendance has been provided by the KU Transportation Research Institute.

The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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