Putting the brakes on anxious driving


Driving a car can be one of the most stressful activities in our lives, with certain driving situations being nearly as stress-inducing as skydiving, according to a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Audi.

A smiling young woman grips the steering wheel inside a vehicle simulator.
Brooke Delventhal tests the team's prototype at Ohio State’s Driving Simulation Laboratory.

But what if a vehicle could detect when you’re stressed and help you calm down? That’s the premise behind a Honda-sponsored capstone project assigned to seven Ohio State students.

Last year, a team of students designed a prototype that detects when the driver of a car is anxious. Now a new batch of Buckeyes is taking the project to the next level.

“Our project is to try to mitigate the anxiety or stress that is detected in the driver,” said biomedical engineering major George Gerges. “We want to do that in a passive, seamless, friendly way.”

His teammates include engineering majors Dylan Beam (food, agricultural and biological engineering), Amber Bollinger (food, agricultural and biological engineering, and neuroscience), Brooke Delventhal (mechanical engineering), Jerry Ding (computer science and engineering) and Robert Murcko (food, agricultural and biological engineering), as well as Fisher College of Business student Brett Miller (information systems).

The team spent fall semester researching proven techniques to reduce stress across a variety of fields, from psychology to sports. They identified optimal ways to target three senses—smell, sight and sound—to lower stress without impacting safety.

“We want to make sure the things we implement won’t impede the driver’s focus on the road, because ultimately that is the highest priority,” explained Brooke Delventhal.

Once the system detects that the driver is stressed, it will automatically begin playing soothing music, diffuse a comforting scent and turn on a blue light—all of which studies have shown to diminish stress. When the driver’s anxiety is reduced, the system will turn off.

During spring semester the team assembled and optimized their prototype. Soon they will test it on volunteer drivers at Ohio State’s Driving Simulation Laboratory on West Campus.

“In order to validate the success of our system, we will be monitoring occupant heart rate and heart rate variability during driving simulations of various stress-inducing scenarios, such as poor weather and traffic,” said Amber Bollinger.

The project is one of 200-plus innovations that will be on display during the 12th annual Engineering Capstone Design Showcase on April 23 in the Ohio Union.

As part of the college’s focus on experiential learning, all undergraduate engineering students must complete a one- or two-semester-long capstone design project prior to graduation. The Occupant Wellbeing Team members are among the more than 80 students—including engineering, business, industrial design and humanities majors—who chose to participate in the Multidisciplinary Capstone Design Program this year, rather than a department-specific capstone project.

“I’ve had classes with mechanical engineers for four years and now it’s really interesting to see how other people’s specialties and backgrounds can work together to ultimately design this solution,” explained Delventhal.

Six smiling, dressed up students stand in a hallway.
Occupant Wellbeing team members (left to right): Amber Bollinger, George Gerges, Dylan Beam, Robert Murcko, Brett Miller and Brooke Delventhal.

In addition to gaining experience working on a real-world project, the capstone program also helps students hone vital soft skills such as communication and project management.

“As we’ve been improving our communication skills, we’ve learned to stay in constant contact and let Honda know as we progress,” said Robert Murcko. “That way, it’s easier to gauge in the moment if we’re going in the right direction.”

Though challenging at times, the students said they appreciate the differences between working on open-ended projects and typical classroom assignments.

“Something else I think is really valuable is it’s a very non-linear process to come to a solution. There’s no one right or wrong way,” said Dylan Beam. “As long as your reasoning is sound and you have good evidence to back what you’re doing, then you can have the right answer.”

Beam and several of his teammates found that the experience also informed their future career plans.

“My plan is to get a PhD in biomedical engineering, neuro-engineering or neuro-prosthetics, but I really want to do research and development. This project, on a small scale, is like research and development,” he said. “It gave me more comfort knowing what that process looks like and recognizing that I like taking a concept from start to finish. It confirmed this is what I want to do.”

Working on a Honda-sponsored capstone project also lets students experience what it’s like to do R&D for the automaker said Honda R&D Americas Engineer Zainab Ali. Industry sponsors also benefit from the partnership.

“Students bring an outside perspective to the project. The collaboration is beneficial for everyone involved,” said Ali, the company advisor for the project. “Having students from different disciplines was also quite effective.”

Honda has participated every year since the Multidisciplinary Capstone Design Program launched in 2009. The company is sponsoring a record-breaking 23 capstone projects this year and continues to be pleased with the outcomes.

“The students were very good, they were very effective in creating a prototype,” said Ali. “Their research work is most important for us. Once they understood the project, the scope and the level of detail we needed, they came up with good results.”

by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, clevenger.87@osu.edu

Categories: ResearchStudents