First came automated braking systems, which pumped the brakes for the driver during an emergency stop. Then, airbags were introduced, shielding our heads and knees from collisions with the windshield and dashboard. Eventually, safety systems became even crazier, with sensors, alarms, cameras, beeps, and blinks. There are more warning lights on modern automobiles than on the Apollo spacecraft.
You already use your eyes to monitor the road for traffic and your ears to listen for other vehicles, fire engines, and city buses. Your hands are occupied guiding the vehicle, while your feet operate the brake and accelerator. Which bodily part are you not utilizing? What parts of you may still be able to absorb new information? What portion of you could alert you to an oncoming threat?
How about your posterior? Indeed, we are talking about your butt.
The XTS sedan, the ATS sedan, and the SRX crossover will all feature a new safety feature called the Safety Alert Seat for the driver in 2013. While your eyes, ears, hands, and feet pilot the vehicle, your lazy butt, which previously had nothing to do in the vehicle, will warn you when you’re about to do something stupid. This makes a lot more sense than you likely realize.
Wiggle It Just a Little Bit
The driver’s seat of the Cadillac Safety Alert Seat contains two tiny motors, one on the right and one on the left. Both are located behind the seat. When a problem is discovered, one or both of these motors vibrate, as they are connected to Cadillac’s electronic safety systems.
When asked where the driver would feel these vibrations, Ray Keifer, active safety technical fellow at General Motors and developer of this seat, said graciously, “the upper thigh.” Not that a playground full of third-graders is a better judge of human anatomy than a scientist, but nearly everyone will concur with the children that we are discussing the butt. You will feel it on your derriere.
In terms of science, the seat uses something called haptic feedback. Keifer said that there are numerous ways for our brains to get information, such as through our senses of sight, smell, and hearing. The term “haptic” refers to our sense of touch. “It’s also used to describe kinetic sensations; the entire car might be jerking,” Keifer explained. Every form of vibration constitutes a haptic alert.
The vibrations alert the driver that anything is wrong or, more likely, is about to go wrong if nothing is done immediately. Consider the Cadillac’s lane departure warning system, for example. “If you drift in your lane without utilizing the turn signal, the lane departure alert will activate,” explained Keifer. “Three rapid pulses are felt on the left side of the driver’s seat. It has a rumble strip-like sensation and is quite intuitive.”
See? It makes far more sense than you initially believed, right?
Shake It Like a Polaroid Picture
In addition to the rumble strip simulation for lane departure, the Safety Alert Seat is compatible with the front and rear park assist sensors, the rear cross-traffic alert, and the new backup warning feature for higher-speed backing. The vehicle will not only shake your rear end to warn you to watch your back, but it will also apply the brakes for you if you are slow to press the pedal.
You may have seen an ad for the cross-traffic warning in which a person backs out of a parking space with enormous Vehicles on both sides. The driver cannot see anything, but the Cadillac is equipped with radar that scans the aisles. If it detects another vehicle on the right, the seat on the right side vibrates. It also displays the information in the central console, just in case your butt doesn’t recognize the haptic alert. (Haptic is today’s most popular term!)
What would motivate a man to build a device to shake the rear ends of Cadillac drivers? Keifer stated that the tactile warnings used by the visually and hearing challenged inspired him. “Some of our drivers have hearing impairments or background noise prevents them from hearing the beeps,” he said. “Over the course of my study, I learned that some organizations were employing vibration to indicate left versus right for navigation purposes. The thought occurred to me to utilize vibration to warn drivers of impending collisions.”
Having a nearly silent signal provides an additional purpose: the majority of individuals switch off safety systems when they become annoying. If you’ve ever driven a car with a park assist system, you’re aware that the beeping may become rather loud. You can find yourself yelling “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” at your car, which is merely attempting to assist you. According to Keifer, a rapid, quiet vibration is less likely to annoy you.
Keifer stated, “It also provides privacy benefits.” No, the passengers in the vehicle do not need to know every time you stray out of your lane. Nor do they need to comment on one’s parallel parking difficulties. “Every day, things like lane departure and park assist beeps occur,” Keifer explained. We aim to prevent individuals from turning off the safety features out of annoyance.