Guidance device aims to cut drivers' “mental workload”
We don't usually use this space to break news about technological developments, but the patented “Night Guidance System” is one of those inventions that fall unmistakably into the why-didn't-somebody-think-of-that-before category.
Now, we don't know if it works but at first glance (we've seen the pictures), it makes a lot of common sense. According to its inventor, Locke White, the system uses “a very simple concept to reduce the mental workload of driving — and more specifically, the lane-tracking of a truck, an RV, a bus or any large vehicle.”
The concept calls for mounting two small (to our eyes, smaller than a typical cab marker light), low-powered laser modules on the fenders or West Coast mirror brackets so that two “dots of light” can be projected on the road 15 ft. in front of a vehicle.
“These dots of light are set to correspond to the left- and right-outermost dimensions of the rig and allow the driver to know at all times his exact lane position,” White explains. “He is (thus) able to look at the road ahead and, out of his peripheral vision, see the dots and their proximity to the painted lines on the road.”
While admitting this “probably does not sound like it would be of much help,” he points out the system relieves the driver from repeatedly looking left, then looking right, and then processing that information — only to wind up with just an estimation of his lane position before correcting his steering.
“With this system,” White states, “there is no estimation because his exact position is always there for him, therefore, his brain does not have to work as hard for an answer.”
From there, it's a small leap of logic to White's contention that reducing the “vast majority of the workload the brain has to perform in lane tracking” in turn reduces overall driver fatigue.
“A perfect analogy,” he offers, “would be the use of a car's cruise control on a long trip. When the system is utilized, the mental processes required in maintaining the car at a constant speed have been eliminated because the cruise control does it for the driver. This explains why the driver feels less fatigued on these trips in comparison to trips when the cruise control cannot be used.”
As for the inventor's track record, White, whose day job is director of licensing and trademarks for Virginia Tech, tells us he has already developed over 25 consumer products that have “successfully gone to market” and is the holder of two patents and three patents-pending.
His Night Guidance System may be going places, too. White reports that late last year the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) awarded a research grant to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) to study its effectiveness under controlled conditions.
While that study should begin in the next few months, White says that private industry has also taken a shine to his idea. “One of the leading truck manufacturers tested the system for six months on a customer's fleet of trucks,” he relates, “and were so impressed, they recommended to FMCSA that a more empirical study be conducted.”
No matter who's behind the wheel, White emphasizes his invention aims to alleviate the mental demands of piloting a large vehicle. “Anything that can help a trucker with his lane tracking,” he adds, “will reduce mental demands, will reduce driver fatigue and will help save lives.”
To learn more about the Night Guidance System, and any progress it may be making toward market, contact Locke White via e-mail at [email protected].