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Taking the load off: investigations of how adaptive cruise control affects mental workload

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It has been posited that Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) represents a new generation of vehicle automation, in that it has the potential to relieve drivers of mental as well as physical workload. The results of previous research however, have raised some confusing issues about the specific effects of Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) on driver mental workload (MWL)--some studies report reduced MWL compared to manual driving, while others find no effect. Two hypotheses are proposed in an attempt to explain these discrepancies: (a) that any potential MWL reductions due to ACC could be masked by the overriding influence of steering demand; or (b) that the tasks designed in some experiments do not exploit the adaptive nature of the ACC system, therefore precluding any potential benefits. Two related experiments were designed to test these hypotheses. It was found that the main reason for the discrepant findings was the nature of the driving task chosen--constant-speed tasks do not realise the mental workload benefits of ACC. Future researchers using ACC devices are advised to use variable-speed tasks to ensure that all aspects of device functionality are covered.
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Keywords: Adaptive Cruise Control; Driving simulator; Mental workload; Vehicle automation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Aviation University of New South Wales Sydney NSW 2052 Australia 2: BITlab, School of Engineering and Design Brunel University Uxbridge Middlesex UB8 3PH UK

Publication date: July 1, 2004

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