Nick Pudar

The auto industry is struggling with the idea of how to pile tons of electronics and connectivity into their vehicles (bringing in lots of profit in the process) while also keeping drivers safe and attentive on the road.
They're exploring all sorts of ideas: cars that communicate with one another, voice activated technology, and freezing out cellphones so that they won't work inside the car. The Center for Automotive Research on Friday hosted a panel of speakers working on driver distraction issues, who say the industry is moving quickly toward finding solutions.

Some researchers believe there are answers to be found in the entertainment field. Namely, magic.

"Magic is about learning people's psychology and exploiting that to fool them," said Nick Pudar, vice president of business planning for General Motors' OnStar division. "The same principles can be applied to driver distraction, so we can get your attention when we need to."

Pudar, an amateur magician, said his tricks often involve distracting people so that they aren't paying attention to what he's really doing. But drivers can be trained to put their eyes back on the road using similar techniques.

Volvo is testing a system that would track driver eye movements. If the car senses that the driver isn't looking at the road, it will flash a series of lights on the dashboard, near the windshield, getting the driver's focus back on the road.

Kind of like the magician who sets off a flash fireball with smoke as a distraction so the audience won't notice something else on stage.

Cadillac and other automakers use something similar, a vibrating seat, that pulses when the car veers out of its lane, meant to snap drivers back to attention. Lexus uses a driver monitor that uses flashing lights and warning chimes to regain driver attention, and can brake the car if the driver is completely unaware of what's going on.

"We can use the principles of deception that are used in magic to help make drivers more aware," Pudar said.

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