Any device or system that draws a driver's attention away from the road is inherently distracting, but some navigation systems are better than others. Now, AT&T Labs is said to be hard at work developing a steering wheel
feedback that may allow more drivers to keep their eyes off of the center console screen. According to MIT's Technology Review, the system uses 20 small actuators to to create a pattern of vibrations in the wheel. When the wheel buzzes clockwise, the driver is meant to turn to the right, while counterclockwise vibrations suggest turning left. The company's research indicates that when the system is used with standard audio and visual cues, inattentiveness in younger drivers drops by around 3.1 percent.
Researchers defined "inattentiveness" as time spent looking away from the road in driving simulations. The haptics had no impact on older drivers, but a separate study by Carnegie Mellon indicated drivers over the age of 65 could see their inattentiveness drop by around four percent.
Even with the promising results, it will likely be years before a similar system could be adopted by automakers, if it ever reaches the market at all.