Better Living Through Big Data

Can augmented reality reduce road rage incidents?

Getting angry at the wheel is, for many drivers, a common occurrence. But even though this anger can sometimes be justified, it can also be dangerous, as it distracts the driver from what is happening on the road. Researchers are attempting to facilitate safer communication between drivers with the help of an augmented reality app.

Imagine you’re driving along, minding your own business, when suddenly a car cuts in front of you at full speed. You get annoyed, you honk your horn, and just for a moment, you put yourself in danger by paying less attention to what is happening around you. But, had you known that the car that cut you up was rushing to the hospital, would you have had the same reaction?

This is the question asked by researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. “In the United States, 1500 people are killed or injured every year following aggressive behavior,” explains Chao Wang, the project’s lead scientist. This project aims to develop a mobile application that uses augmented reality to facilitate communication between drivers.

How does it work?

The approach is relatively simple. Developed to work on a smartphone, the app uses the smartphone’s screen to project an image onto a small plastic screen located close to the windshield. This means that drivers can see the information without being distracted by their smartphones. The app also contains a system of simple phrases and pictograms that allow drivers to send short messages to other road users to explain the reasons behind their behavior on the road.

For example, an airplane icon could appear on the screen, meaning that the car behind is driving to the airport and may be a little pressed for time. The driver would then understand why the car behind may be driving in a more “sporty” manner than usual, anticipate this, and avoid getting in the way. Numerous different situations can be communicated in this way.

However, this does not mean that the app offers free rein on the roads: the developers plan to add safeguards over time, in particular by limiting the use of certain functions that could justify dangerous behavior. In addition, other road users can also “grade” drivers by sending notifications resembling Facebook icons, to praise them for considerate driving, for example, or conversely to communicate their annoyance.

Multiple uses

The researchers and developers are currently trialing the app among a small number of drivers to judge its effectiveness. The app uses a sticker located on the cars’ front windshields to recognize them, but Chao Wang envisages that license plates could be used in the future.

If the app can successfully demonstrate a decrease in aggressive driving as a result of this new method of communication, the researchers think that their system could also interest insurance companies, who could use drivers’ grades to judge their driving habits and eventually adjust their insurance policies using this information. Clearly, the project is still in its infancy, but it gives us an idea of what is waiting down the road, with technology that is already at our fingertips.

Audrey Oeillet

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