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Researchers programmed voice output to remain silent in dangerous situations (Photo: Bielefeld University)

Automated voice output systems often add to distraction in the car, when they continue to provide instructions in, for example, a difficult traffic situation. Researchers at Bielefeld University in western Germany have developed a dialog system that allows the interruption of voice output in such a situation.

"In critical situations such as passing maneuvers, a driver's ability to concentrate is insufficient to master additional tasks," said David Schlangen, who manages the project. "The driver is forced to engage in multitasking, which makes it difficult for him to drive and listen at the same time."

Schlangen's group, which concerns itself with so-called "applied computer linguistics," has developed a technology to deal with this type of problem. The system can respond to a particular traffic situation by remaining silent.

The researchers have already tested the system in a driving simulator and compared the effectiveness of both traditional and new technologies. "We could prove that our system compared with a traditional technology was clearly less distractive," Schlangen said in a press release. He added that the driver in a simulated overhaul maneuver drove more precisely and reduced the risk of an accident. Said the university researcher:"With traditional systems, performance is reduced as much as when someone is on the phone while driving."