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Making Talking On A Cell Phone While Driving Just A Little Bit Safer

Stanford researchers trick chatterers into paying attention to the road

2 min read
Making Talking On A Cell Phone While Driving Just A Little Bit Safer

Even though we all know that talking on a cell phone while driving is not the safest activity in the world, we’re not giving it up. We are, of course, going hands free—in many states, that’s the law.

But short of turning off our phones all together, there’s not much else we can do. Or is there? Eyal Ophir and his colleagues in Stanford University’s CHIMe Lab (that stands for Communications Between Humans and Interactive Media) say there is. They’re currently writing up the results of their latest study on multitasking while driving.

This is the same group Stanford researchers who, in August, dropped a dime on multitaskers everywhere by proving that folks who think they are getting more done by juggling multiple tasks instead of focusing on just one are kidding themselves, and generated a media buzz.

This time, they looked at their favorite research subjects—multitaskers of two breeds, low and high. In general, they found, high multitaskers are easily distractible—that could be a good thing when they’re having a heated cell phone conversation yet catch a glimpse of something on the road ahead that could cause trouble. Low multitaskers are less distractible, which could mean that they’re more likely to focus on their cell phone conversation than the road.

The trick was to build some kind of tool that can help both types of multitaskers pay attention to their driving when it’s most critical.

I ran into Ophir at the unveiling of a new autonomous vehicle—perhaps the ultimate solution to the driver distraction problem, but one that won’t be parked in the average driveway anytime soon. He told me about the tool he came up with.

The concept—moving the voice coming from the cell phone around in the car. Not hard to do, with today’s virtual surround sound technology. Ophir designed a system that puts the voice up at the driver’s level when road conditions are relatively safe, then drops it down to the driver’s feet when conditions are more hazardous. He says he could have done it the opposite way and it appears that it would have worked equally well, but that research has shown that voices coming from lower than the speaker are less dominant, hence his choice of high and low. He tested the system with drivers in a simulator, and found that drivers quickly learned that a change in position of the voice meant, “Pay attention to the road!”  They later rated the cell phone conversation as less distracting when the sound was coming from their feet.

In the real world, Ophir sees this system linked to the driver’s GPS and a database of accidents, to identify potentially treacherous areas of road. Ophir expects to publish this research soon.

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The First Million-Transistor Chip: the Engineers’ Story

Intel’s i860 RISC chip was a graphics powerhouse

21 min read
Twenty people crowd into a cubicle, the man in the center seated holding a silicon wafer full of chips

Intel's million-transistor chip development team

In San Francisco on Feb. 27, 1989, Intel Corp., Santa Clara, Calif., startled the world of high technology by presenting the first ever 1-million-transistor microprocessor, which was also the company’s first such chip to use a reduced instruction set.

The number of transistors alone marks a huge leap upward: Intel’s previous microprocessor, the 80386, has only 275,000 of them. But this long-deferred move into the booming market in reduced-instruction-set computing (RISC) was more of a shock, in part because it broke with Intel’s tradition of compatibility with earlier processors—and not least because after three well-guarded years in development the chip came as a complete surprise. Now designated the i860, it entered development in 1986 about the same time as the 80486, the yet-to-be-introduced successor to Intel’s highly regarded 80286 and 80386. The two chips have about the same area and use the same 1-micrometer CMOS technology then under development at the company’s systems production and manufacturing plant in Hillsboro, Ore. But with the i860, then code-named the N10, the company planned a revolution.

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