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To cut distraction, Denso studies drivers' vital signs

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DETROIT (Jan. 18, 2012) - - Until now, designing vehicle "infotainment" controls has been a hit-or-miss affair for auto makers and suppliers.

Denso International America Inc., a global automotive supplier of advanced automotive technology, systems and components based in Southfield, Mich., is turning it into a science.

Ron Schubert, the company's director of body components and safety, said the Japanese supplier is studying motorists' biological indicators. Denso, which makes infotainment systems, wants to help auto makers figure out how to make the controls more user-friendly.

Researchers are measuring perspiration, brain waves, eye gaze, heart rate and blood pressure to determine the most reliable indicators of a motorist's mental state.

Once Denso identifies the best indicators of agitation, fatigue or distraction, Mr. Schubert said, the company will figure out how to measure those biometrics when the subject is behind the wheel.

And that's the tricky part: Denso's researchers don't want to hook the driver up to a jungle of electrodes, Mr. Schubert said. The driving experience has to be natural.

So Denso is working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Iowa to develop these biometric tools.

Once they figure out how to do this, they can better decide which infotainment features are dangerous distractions.

This project is on the bleeding edge of scientific inquiry. But it may give us some groundbreaking insights into driver distraction.

David Sedgwick is a special correspondent for Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.

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