General Motors' patented Safety Alert Seat has in two years has migrated from an luxury-exclusive feature to selected 2015 Chevrolet models (Silverado, Suburban and Tahoe) in the US. It works with other collision-avoidance warning technologies in the vehicle to vibrate the driver’s seat bottom cushion if a crash risk is detected.
The Safety Alert Seat was designed to give customers an alternative to auditory alerts such as beeps, as well as to give hearing-impaired drivers an opportunity to experience crash avoidance system alerts. About one in five Americans (48 million) suffer some degree of hearing loss, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins University.
Chevrolet’s Safety Alert Seat uses haptics, a tactile feedback technology that re-creates the sense of touch by using left and/or right ‘tapping’ vibration pulses to direct the driver to the location of a crash threat. Similar technology is used in space and military applications.
“Using the tactile sense to communicate crash threat direction can help cut through the clutter of visual and auditory sensory information that drivers routinely experience,” said GM Active Safety Technical Fellow Raymond J. Kiefer.
“The best kind of safety protection we can offer are customer-focused features that help drivers avoid the crash altogether, and which are kept turned on for every trip,” said Kiefer.
Here’s how the Safety Alert Seat works in a vehicle equipped with a lane departure warning system:
When the camera detects the vehicle is leaving a lane without an active turn signal in that direction, small motors generate a vibration pulse in the left or right seat bolster that directs the driver’s attention to the side of the lane encroachment.
When a vehicle is equipped with forward collision alert technology and the system detects the driver may strike the vehicle ahead, both sides of the seat vibrate. Drivers always can select beeping alerts instead of seat vibrations.
“Safety technologies are only as effective as customers’ willingness and ability to use them,” said Kiefer. “If the Safety Alert Seat encourages our customers to receive crash-threat alerts or give hearing-impaired drivers an opportunity to experience such alerts, we think that’s good for them as well as other motorists.”