Understanding the Sense-of-Touch technology for safer driving

The sense-of-touch solution by Israel-based Tactile Mobility has been embedded in the ECUs of over 2.5 million BMW Group vehicles over the last year. The solution is currently in production at Nexteer Automotive as a smart steering wheel solution.

While most current discussions of the automotive industry tend to focus on the development of electric and autonomous vehicles, other innovations are also in the works that may go a long way towards making our roads safer. Among these innovations is sense-of-touch driving technology, or SoT, a new approach to automotive safety. In this article, Shahar Bin-Nun, CEO of Tactile Mobility, explains the relevance of SoT and how it works.

What is Sense-of-Touch driving technology?

Even when you are paying attention to the road, you can’t always count on spotting something that’s outside your field of vision, especially when something jumps out at your vehicle at the last minute. To address this issue, car manufacturers have increasingly begun implementing AI software programs and sensors in their vehicles that can, in the event of a collision, activate emergency braking, a gear reverse, or even an engine shutdown, depending on what inputs the sensors are receiving.

Unfortunately, the data these sensors receive on how to respond can be incomplete, making it hit-or-miss as to how effectively they can respond to a collision. SoT, which is implanted as a software module within a vehicle, solves this issue by working in conjunction with a vehicle’s AI programs and sensors to provide real-time data on tire-to-surface grip, tire health, and weight estimation. That way, customer functions in the car, such as adaptive cruise control, can more effectively respond to road and vehicle hazards and reduce the chances of a fatal road collision occurring.

In addition, SoT is also continuously gathering data on road conditions and the condition of the vehicle in the lead-up to, during, and after a collision. This data is automatically stored on a cloud server, where it can provide vital insights for vehicle manufacturers on how collisions are happening and what companies can do to improve safety features. Such insights could prove to be a game changer for road safety, especially when it comes to autonomous driving functions.

How does SoT work?

SoT is used mainly as a preventive measure to help avoid dangerous situations that can lead to an accident. Imagine you are cruising along the highway doing 65 mph, and you’ve turned on your adaptive cruise control, which helps vehicles with cruise control to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles. As you approach a vehicle ahead of you, the adaptive cruise control feature helps to keep you at a safe distance behind the vehicle. 

But is the distance really safe? Well, if you are driving on dry asphalt with a good set of tires, the answer is yes. Even if the road is wet the answer is still yes, and in the unlikely event of an emergency brake of the vehicle ahead, you will still be able to brake on time.

But what if you hit a section of the road that’s slippery due to an oil spill or black ice? The actual grip would be very low, and if braking is required, the current distance may not suffice. SoT systems constantly monitor the tire-to-surface grip, so when you hit the slippery section, the vehicle will know, very near to real-time, that you are now in slippery conditions. The SoT system will command the adaptive cruise control system to increase the distance from the vehicle ahead. All of the above will occur in less than a second.

Benefits of Sense-of-Touch driving technology 

The most obvious benefit of SoT is that by working in conjunction with the vehicle’s AI system and a connected smartphone device, drivers can pull up a review of their vehicle’s current health and performance. This data can give drivers a lot of helpful information, such as whether the engine is performing as it should, whether the tires need changing, and when the last maintenance check was performed.

Although SoT can provide a lot of safety benefits, drivers may not be comfortable with the idea of having their data collected in this way. That’s why when people first purchase an SoT-equipped vehicle, they have the option to sign a data-sharing consent form with the manufacturer. There’s no penalty for not signing this consent form: the vehicle will still work as it should. But you won’t get access to any of the SoT functions.

By signing the form, you allow the manufacturer to continuously gather data on both the vehicle’s performance and any roadway collisions. Using this data, manufacturers can better understand how their vehicles are performing and make adjustments to improve their safety and performance. Auto insurers can also receive collision data so they can more effectively identify all the factors that caused a collision, leading to a faster claims process. 

Final thoughts

Automotive manufacturing has come a long way in the last century. As we head towards an age when autonomous vehicles begin to take over our roads, it becomes even more pressing that we find ways to reduce roadway deaths. Sense-of-touch driving technology, which is currently being tested by a number of automotive manufacturers, may play a key role in making our roads safer for everyone.

In 2022, Tactile Mobility conducted several successful POCs that are now being tested by the product teams at various car manufacturers in Europe, America, and Asia.

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