Ford's Sleep Suit Plans to Tackle Zombie Drivers

By Rob Clymo on at

We’ve all seen the signs: ‘Tiredness can kill, take a break’, but how many of us take heed of this seemingly obvious warning? Pulling over for a much-needed nap and a Greggs at the motorway services could save your life, but its advice that tends to fall on deaf ears. Ford has therefore come up with a so-called ‘Sleep suit’, which it aims to integrate as part of its very practical Driving Skills for Life (DSFL) driver training initiative for 17 to 24-year-olds.

“Drive when you’re tired and you risk driving like a zombie – becoming a danger to yourself, your passengers and everyone on the road around you,” said Dr Gundolf Meyer‑Hentschel, CEO, Meyer‑Hentschel Institute, who developed the kit. “Young adults very often subject themselves to ‘intentional sleep deprivation’ – forcing themselves to stay awake that they can juggle the demands of busy social lives, long working hours and studying for exams.”

Rather than taking the press release for granted, we decided to try out the sleep suit for ourselves. Like many things that take you into the realms of augmented reality, artificial intelligence or even gaming, this does naturally involve putting on a headset and looking more stupid than normal. Well, in the case of the Ford sleep suit it’s actually a pair of tinted goggles, but the effect is much the same.

The goggles are supplemented by a specially designed cap, along with a vest, plus arm and ankle bands. All of this gubbins makes up a combined weight of over 18kg. The goggles are subsequently connected to a smartphone app and a selection of settings allows them to simulate the brain shutting down. It effectively produces the same effect as those microsleeps you get if you stay behind the wheel for too long. Initially, the effect is half a second, but this can be increased up to 10 seconds.

Setting up

The component parts look nice enough laid out before you, but it’s not until you start putting them on that you encounter the weight issue. A pair of arm weights adds 3.5 kilos and a leg weight adds the same. However, it’s the chunky vest that weighs in at 10 kilos and really bulks things up. Add on the weighted cap and then the goggles on top of that and you’re soon feeling pretty bogged down. And hot. We managed to have the added debilitating effects of a heavy cold too, so it was pretty much a perfect package for drowsiness.

The goggles can be controlled using the accompanying app, the snappily-titled Fatal Vision Drowsy & Distracted, which has a selection of settings that let you simulate those microsleeps of different lengths. The end result is akin to dropping off briefly, depending on the setting you’ve chosen, although the downside to wearing all that extra body weight is that the getting hot aspect tends to make you feel even more lethargic. Mooching around a south London office was bad enough, while going out in public with those attention-grabbing black Velcro garments was definitely not on the agenda.

Fair play to Ford for trying this initiative though, and it’s all about education. If the sleep suit raises awareness to the perils of driving when you’re tired then that’s got to be good news. The carmaker did a similar thing about a year ago when it came up with the hangover suit, which aimed to simulate the effects of having drunk too much. In fact, that initiative was rather more impressive and had a more complex suite of tools to illustrate the debilitating effect of too much alcohol and the dangers of mixing it with driving.

Perfect timing

The release of the hangover suit made good sense as it was used to raise the awareness of driving the morning after a night spent drinking. Considering December is chock-full of office parties and other booze-fuelled celebrations then the hangover suit exercise was a great idea. While it had many of the same component parts too, there was the added extra of headphones, which let people ‘enjoy’ the symptoms of fatigue, dizziness, a throbbing head and difficulty concentrating.

Charlie Brunning from Brake said at the time: “There’s no way of knowing exactly how long it takes to sober up completely the morning after, but it’s longer than many people think. If you had a heavy or late night drinking this festive season you could be over the limit for all of the next day so make your travel arrangements in advance. It’s a fact that even small amounts of alcohol or drugs increase your risk of crashing. It might not just be your licence that is lost, it could be someone’s life.”

And, in the UK, with 1 in 10 drink driving arrests take place between 06:00 and 08:00am it’s well worth reminding people again just how easy it is to get caught out, often unintentionally. While Christmas Day is seen as the main event when it comes to alcohol intake and the resulting hangover, experts involved in the Ford research reckon that it is actually December 14th that stands up as the most hungover day of the festive build-up. A sobering thought.

“Following years of driver education, driving at night after drinking alcohol is a huge social no-no. But this is not so much the case for those who drive the morning after. The ‘Hangover Suit’ shows how debilitating a hangover can be – and the risk that driving in that condition can present to all road users,” said Ford Driving Skills for Life Manager Jim Graham.

Look out for Ford DSFL events around the country, so that you too can experience the effects of being hungover and tired at the same time. Who knows, your driving might improve as a result.