Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Ron Walli (wallira@ornl.gov)
Communications and External Relations


Information overload drives ORNL project

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., June 2, 1999 — Drivers contending with cellular phones, electronic mail, pagers and congested highways may benefit from work being done at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

Using a driving simulator and a specially equipped 1999 Dodge Intrepid, researchers in the lab's Computer Science and Mathematics Division will be studying the effect of information overload on drivers ages 18 to 75. The subjects will be driving an Intrepid that features collision warning and navigation systems, a day and night road imagery projected as a "head-up" display at the top of the windshield, adaptive cruise control, a lane tracker and an Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) data bus that allows access to cellular phones, pagers and even e-mail.

"In looking at this 'information overload,' we want to see how drivers - especially older ones - react to and deal with the information that this system provides," said Phil Spelt, a senior research scientist at ORNL. "We'll be especially interested to see if the information startles drivers in these actual but controlled driving situations."

Drivers will wear physiological monitors that measure heart rate, skin conductivity, respiration rate and muscle tension. This data will provide researchers Bill Knee and Dan Tufano with information about a driver's reactions. Sensors on the wheels, steering wheel and global positioning system will tell the speed, direction and location of the vehicle. Meanwhile, six miniature video cameras will allow researchers to see the driver's hands, face and what's ahead and behind the car.

Everything will be recorded and marked with a time stamp so researchers will know what happened at any given moment during the drive session. With this information, they can examine possible correlational or causal relations between stimuli, number and types of messages and their effects on drivers.

"New information delivery systems are designed to make it easier for the driver to navigate through traffic and to operate the car more safely," Tufano said. "Ironically, some information systems may distract and startle drivers, making driving less safe."

The car is also equipped with an ITS data bus, an emerging Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) standard for on-board electronic communication among devices. The data bus, developed by Spelt and an SAE committee, received an ITS America's 1999 Award for Outstanding Achievement in Intelligent Vehicles in April.

"The data bus is a computer network that handles information from the vehicle, navigation and collision warning systems and communications systems such as cell phones and pagers," Tufano said. "A filter made possible by the bus assigns priorities to messages so you get the information needed to avoid a collision or take the next exit before you receive the message that tomorrow's staff meeting has been rescheduled for later in the day."

Another portion of the test involves the driving simulator, which will help researchers learn more about attention, workload and behavioral and performance changes because of the driver's use of ITS technologies. Researchers will use the simulator for experiments that involve situations that are inherently dangerous or unnerving.

"By using the simulator this way," Knee said, "it will complement the capabilities we've built into the instrumented Intrepid."

This project is one of several efforts of the Human Factors Engineering Laboratory, which is part of the National Transportation Research Center, a collaborative effort among ORNL, the University of Tennessee and The Development Corporation of Knox County. ORNL researchers expect to have results from the project by late summer or early fall.

Funding is provided by DOE's Laboratory Directed Research and Development program and the Federal Highway Administration. ORNL is a DOE multiprogram research facility managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corporation.