As drivers demand more information from their vehicles, automakers are challenged to deliver it safely. General Motors and Saab will unveil new technology aimed at meeting that challenge during next week’s annual full model line preview at the GM Proving Ground in Milford, Michigan.

The technology is designed to lessen attention demands on the driver and adjust certain vehicle information – and, eventually, functions – based on driver status and/or preference.

The system, called Dialogue Manager, is currently available on the 2003 Saab 9-3. The first version of the system was on the Saab 9-5. It is designed to manage information flow to the driver based upon the current driving environment. To do this, the technology takes into account vehicle factors such as speed, windscreen wiper movement and other vehicle data.

Based on these factors, the Dialogue Manager decides if it is a good time to relay messages to the driver via the information centre. If the vehicle perceives that the driver is experiencing a demanding driving environment, the system will delay messages that aren’t safety-critical until the car senses a less demanding situation.

“If you’re driving on a road with lots of curves during an intense rainstorm, it might not be the best time for you to get a message that the fuel level is low,” said GM human factors engineer Scott Geisler, an authority on driver distraction.

Systems such as the GM-Saab Dialogue Manager are designed to reduce what is commonly called driver workload, a term for both physical and mental demands on a driver. GM researchers already are working on more sophisticated versions of the Dialogue Manager that take into account more vehicle factors and that classify vehicle information into more categories.

“Eventually, GM researchers envision a vehicle that will be completely intuitive to a driver’s needs,” said Geisler. “It will know the internal and external vehicle environment, as well as the driver’s personal characteristics, and be able to act upon that knowledge.”

One example would enable a vehicle to map out a travel route for the driver, without manual input of an address, based solely on the correct recognition of the driver and his or her personal calendar and appointments scheduled for that day. Eventually this technology also would be capable of identifying a delay in the original route, resulting in the vehicle modifying the route to achieve both energy and time efficiency.

Another example could allow the vehicle to delay an incoming call from an embedded phone when demanding situations are identified.

“We believe technology will play an important role in helping drivers manage the many distractions they face in the vehicle,” said a GM spokesman. “However, it will never replace a driver’s good judgment. That’s why our SenseAble Driving programme takes a very comprehensive approach to studying and managing driver distraction.”

GM claims to be the only car maker that has announced a set of common-sense principles that guide the design and implementation of in-vehicle technologies. GM is also educating drivers about the issue through US state driver licensing bureaus and through