Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Toyota to develop cars that aid senior safety

For those feeling nervous behind the wheel as old age kicks in, savvy cars may be the answer.

Prof. Ryuta Kawashima, who helped develop Nintendo's "Brain Age" games, is teaming with Toyota to develop cars that help seniors drive safely, the researcher said Tuesday.

"We envision future cars will be able to monitor brain and emotional activity to back up elderly drivers," said Kawashima, a Tohoku University scientist who worked on Nintendo Co.'s best-selling "Brain Age" games — and whose smiling image is the guide in the series.Among technologies on the table is one that can determine a driver's driving patterns and curb any dangerous activity, Kawashima said. It could, for example, slow the car if it senses the driver is hitting the gas pedal for no reason.

Future developments could involve a navigation system and temperature controls that help drivers stay alert, he said.

"Ultimately, we hope to develop cars that stimulate brain activity, so that driving itself becomes a form of brain training," Kawashima said.

Toyota Motor Corp. representatives are attending sessions of Kawashima's "Mobility and Smart Aging" study group, which he set up in May to discuss senior-friendly cars, he said. The automaker and Tohoku University "are done with brainstorming and ready to start making some of the technologies," Kawashima said, saying some of the technology could appear in cars in five years.

Toyota spokeswoman Kayo Doi said company engineers are working with Tohoku University but aren't ready to announce any specific technologies.

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