MIT AgeLab research scientists Bryan Reimer and Bruce Mehler, and research associate Dan Munger attended Toyota’s 2012 Safety Research Forum on September 12. The forum was an opportunity for Toyota and its research partners to share preliminary results from projects focused on reducing the risk of driver distraction and protecting vulnerable traffic populations.

Dr. Reimer gave a talk focusing on the Delayed Digit Recall, or MIT n-back task, a procedure developed for grading cognitive workload that is being used internationally.

AgeLab’s work with Toyota is evaluating the extent to which cognitive interactions (such as increased levels of n-back or use of voice control for the car radio) impact the driver and driving behavior under actual on-road driving conditions. Reimer and his team are comparing these levels of demand with traditional visual manipulative radio interaction utilizing physiology, eye tracking, vehicle telemetry, task performance and subjective report.

Reimer, Mehler and Munger demonstrated the effects of the n-back task on drivers’ reaction times using a driving simulator they brought to the summit. Participants were asked to react to a lead vehicle’s brake lights while driving both with and without engaging in a 1-back task (rated as requiring moderate cognitive demand). As expected, participants were able to see their reaction time increase with the added demand.

Attendees to the summit included the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, other governmental representatives, Toyota’s research partners, and the press.
The n-back task was developed as part of New England University Transportation Center funded work.