|Driving has never been safer, with vehicle crash-related fatalities at an all time low in most areas of the developed world. But public authorities are pushing for zero fatalities and these efforts are helping to bring enhanced safety technologies to the market through a combination of embedded and off-board solutions.
Still, not everyone agrees on how to make cars safer. The latest high-profile debate revolves around distracted driving and mobile phone use. Some argue that hands-free interfaces help drivers by allowing them to keep their hands on the steering wheel and their eyes on the road while interacting with their mobile phone. Others believe that no mobile devices should be in the car at all since they represent a driver distraction.
Acknowledging the role of distraction (a suddenly loaded noun with many potent and potential meanings) in accidents, a purist might argue for an in-vehicle experience bereft of distracting displays. In this context, a shift to head-up display technology might make more sense than in-dash displays, MMI/i-Drive-type interfaces and touch screens. Even voice interfaces might take a backseat in this scenario.
Companies such as General Motors and Microvision are among those leading the way down the head-up path. In an environment where regulators want drivers’ eyes on the road it is the only logical way to go. But the industry and consumers may not be ready for this leap. And with so much industry focus on in-car mobile phone use as part of the U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s Distracted Driving Initiative, the head-up display conversation is likely to be deferred, ignored, or simply drowned out.
(It is important to note that head-up displays are no longer available from Buick or Cadillac, as recent dealer visits have confirmed. BMW is now the leader in head-up display technology in North America. The technology remains expensive and, generally, a special order item.)
The USDOT’s Distracted Driving Initiative will see its second summit conference this year in Washington, DC, September 21st. The goal of the event is to raise awareness of distracted driving resulting from in-car mobile phone use generally and texting in particular and to seek solutions to the problem in a public forum.
Ford Motor Company stands in the eye of this storm with its high profile Sync hands-free system and the MyFord Touch upgrade arriving later this year. Ford is carrying the flag for hands-on-the-wheel/eyes-on-the-road driving in a struggle with Dept. of Transportation director Ray LaHood, the National Safety Council, the American Automobile Association and Oprah Winfrey, all of whom oppose the use of mobile devices in cars under any circumstances. (Ophrah may have changed her tune recently to allow for hands-free interfaces.)
The debate raises fundamental questions regarding safety systems and automotive interfaces. Distracted Driving campaigners implicate the two-second glance to an iPod, iPhone or other mobile device as the culprit in more than a million roadway accidents (http://bit.ly/6uP3wu). All parties agree that there is a problem, but disagree on its nature and magnitude. There is also definite disagreement on the solution. And if a two-second glance is the culprit, what about all of those OTHER two-second glances in the car?
Ford’s eyes-on-road-hands-on-wheel message could not be clearer and the company has backed up its position with its own research along with the results of both independent and industry-sponsored studies. Ford’s Sync and the unfortunately named MyFord Touch (which is intended mainly for voice, not touch, interfacing – in spite of the touch screen) represent the solution to a long-standing problem.
Driver Distraction has been an issue confronting automobile designers from the very earliest days of the industry. The emergence of car radios in the 1930’s, for example, led to the introduction of push button channel selection to ease the distraction of locating stations with a dial. Multiple international standards-setting bodies and industry associations have long ago specified the appropriate viewing angle (30 degrees) of dashboard displays to minimize eyes-off-the-road time.
Designers regularly do battle over the question of touch screen or no touch screen, debating the finer points of changing focal lengths and distraction. Audi delved deeply into this issue before launching its touchpad interface. Yet all of the i-Drive and MMI-type interfaces still require a glance at a display in the car.
Strangely, no one in the industry seems to be taking this distraction debate to its logical conclusion. If a two-second glance to an in-vehicle display is a source of potentially fatal crashes, the industry needs to be taking an entirely different direction. If displays of all kinds are the problem, then let’s do away with on-board displays completely. At the very least the industry should commence an initiative to explore a shift to head-up displays.
But, wait, before we undo more than a century of HMI refinement let’s go back to the beginning. Highway fatalities are at an all-time low throughout the developed world and are especially low when indexed against the extraordinary increase in miles driven. During this time of declining road fatalities smartphone penetration has grown at an equally extraordinary pace.
Smartphones, therefore, are not an obvious source of highway fatalities, but anecdotal evidence suggests these devices are not blameless. Ford is an interesting organization to find at the nexus of the debate. Not only has the company led the way in bringing voice interfaces into the car for safe operation of mobile devices, it has also pioneered the safe implementation of those interfaces.
Examples of safe voice implementation by Ford:
#1 Software development kit (SDK) enforces Sync constraints such as no keyboard entry or video while moving and list length limitations. This “policy management” layer is also being implemented within Apple’s iPod out,
Delphi’s D-Connect, and Nokia’s Terminal Mode (http://bit.ly/b22buN), among other solutions.
#2 When a vehicle is in motion, Ford locks out features and functions such as pairing a Bluetooth phone, editing or adding contact info, POI reviews, detailed sports scores or movie times, manual destination entry, all demo modes, keying in or editing messages, Internet access, external keyboard, editing settings, setting up short-cut buttons.
#3 Ford limits list lengths (contacts/recent calls/POIs), the number of canned text responses and Sirius Travel Link information when the vehicle is moving.
Ford’s recommendations for mitigating distracted driving include:
#1 Passage of Jay Rockefellers’ anti-texting Senate Bill (http://bit.ly/aLMKL4) providing incentives for states to pass anti-texting legislation;
#2 Primary enforcement of existing mobile phone bans;
#3 Limiting mobile phone use for holders of graduated driver’s licenses – ie. teens; Ford also offers its MyKey technology for parents to limit vehicle speed, stereo volume etc. for teen drivers.
#4 Education/public awareness campaigns – ie. Ford’s Driving Skills for Life (http://bit.ly/8TcMpn);
Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers’ “Driver Focused Telematics Guidelines” to regulatory status (http://bit.ly/ddCpRd);
#6 Increase funding for research – handheld vs. voice; relative risks of distractions including cognitive; and review real-world driver compensation behaviors.
The embedded, policy management side of Ford’s smartphone-based effort has been Volvo’s IDIS workload management solution. Not surprisingly, Ford is working on similar on-board solutions that take into account driving conditions and vehicle status based on messages on the vehicle CAN network including stability control and windshield wiper engagement, speed, and traffic.
There is a small irony in Ford’s sale of Volvo given Volvo’s leadership in vehicle safety. The timing was rendered especially poignant given the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s shift in the middle of last year toward a focus on preventing rather than simply surviving accidents (http://bit.ly/9L6MFi).
Volvo has been a leader in bringing technologies to market that anticipate and attempt to avoid accidents. IDIS (for Intelligent Driver Information System) is intended to shut down distracting in-vehicle functions – such as mobile phone access or even warning lights - in the presence of hazardous driving conditions – intersections, overtaking etc.
IDIS takes into account such driving circumstances as acceleration, speed reduction, turn signal indicators, steering wheel angle, reverse gear engagement and infotainment controls. Its primary output is to delay/manage incoming calls and vehicle alerts. The next step for IDIS will be the integration of map data along the lines of map-based advanced driver assist system designs from Navteq (with partners Magneti Marelli and STMicroelectronics) and Intermap (Visteon).
The integration of map data with vehicle safety systems will allow for curve over-speed warnings or pro-active braking when approaching sharp turns. One can expect more solutions to block mobile phone access – as in the case of Global Mobile Alert – in the proximity of hazardous intersections, school zones or rail crossings.
Strategy Analytics research shows that consumers want safer cars. Recent Strategy Analytics surveys reveal high consumer interest in night vision, pre-crash safety, adaptive front lights, blindspot detection, adaptive cruise control, driver attention monitors, lane departure warning, parking assistance, V2V communication and automatic speed limiters. The challenge of course, is getting consumers to pay for these technologies.
This reluctance to pay creates the conditions for Federal mandates. And Federal mandates are likely to change the public’s perception of safety from an exploding airbag to a pre-emptive braking experience.
Auto makers are already responding to this shift. Infiniti, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Opel and Volvo are all actively touting active vehicle safety systems with the best and most advanced of these taking driving context into account. These systems are also increasingly taking distraction, inattention and even driver fatigue into account.
In an ideal world, there would be no distracting displays inside the car to divert the driver’s attention from the eyes forward concentration on the driving task. In this ideal world, head-up displays would be widely deployed and traffic fatalities would be continuing their downward trajectory.
We do not live in an ideal world. Therefore, everything else in the world of automotive HMI is a compromise. In the context of that compromise, vehicle systems that take into account driving circumstances and device connectivity are preferred to those that do not. This means that systems and devices – Apple’s iPod out, Nokia’s Terminal Mode,
Delphi’s D-Connect – that provide a contextual policy management layer will be in demand.
More importantly, with NHTSA shifting its focus to crash avoidance, perhaps the entire automotive industry will begin to rethink what safety is and what safety means. And when it comes to distracted driving, there will hopefully be a federal and industry embrace rather than a rejection of technological solutions such as hands-free interfaces.
Additional Insights:http://bit.ly/94Mn1V -
Delphi Emerges at SAE with Answer to Nokia Terminal Mode - Lanctot - blog - Strategy Analyticshttp://bit.ly/b5W8ZS - Nokia and RIM Push Into Automotive as ‘Apps’ Competition Mounts - Joanne Blight – AMCS
http://bit.ly/b5XEJM - Advanced Driver Assistance Systems: Supply And Fitment Database - Kevin Mak - Automotive Multimedia and Communications Service
http://bit.ly/cVcENg- Consumers Interested in Advanced Safety Features, but not at Current Price - Chris Schreiner - Automotive Consumer Insights
http://bit.ly/b9oVAt - CTIA 2010: Distraction Mitigating Apps on Display - Chris Schreiner - Automotive Multimedia and Communications Service
http://bit.ly/9BYNeR - Smartphones Bringing Safety Systems to Cars - Roger Lanctot - blog - Autmotive Multimedia and Communications Service