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Can we avoid driver distraction in connected cars?

The other day I had a friend car pool with me to office from home. We were having a lively discussion on a common interest subject and out of habit I had the FM radio turned on as well. The incessant honking by the motorists on the road only added to the audio decibels around us and it was all getting extremely noisy and insufferably loud. I noticed that all these events were causing a distraction and actually causing a slight dip in my attention to driving the car. This made me very worried.

We are all getting increasingly surrounded by technology in our ecosystem and there is still a hungry demand for further ubiquitous and seamless connectivity within vehicles from consumers. Decidedly so, auto OEMs are being continuously pushed to find a balance between providing 'relevant, important and critical' applications within the car vis-à-vis controlling driver distractions. However, driver distraction is now at the center of all connected car woes and is the most talked about topic at conferences, events and client interactions. More and more people are opposing (or at least voicing concern) to any technology that is going to add to the distraction strain on the driver while driving; which takes me to the moot point of this blog - Can we avoid driver distraction in connected cars?

Undoubtedly, this is the elephant in the room and we cannot avoid embracing new technology and applications within cars and other vehicles. What we could do is devise innovative ideas on how to minimize driver distraction. One way to do this is by classifying what is 'relevant, important and critical' for the car-on-the-road ecosystem. Having prognostic ability built in the car to avoid a mid-drive break down can be termed as relevant to the driver whereas an emergency call (eCall) may be critical for sending EMS to the site. From a consumer perspective, being seamlessly connected to Facebook or Twitter within the car could be important. Hence a matrix should be formed with weighted average taken for all the applications and features that can have an impact on driver distraction. Once this is done, we could then decide what takes priority over the other and then use technology to regulate the communication. For example, an eCall will take precedence over the audio navigation instruction. Route navigation can take precedence over FM radio. A reminder alert can be timed to be broadcast within 5 seconds of engine start and so on. The whole experience within the car will have to be re-analyzed taking situational events into consideration before adopting new features.

Hence, prioritization is going to be critical to decide on which technology or application takes precedence over the other. This will definitely help minimize distraction and allow drivers to handle and manage the seamless connectivity within the connected car. Do you agree?

Comments

Certainly agree that prioritization can help in minimizing distractions.

Additionally should we think of disabling or switching off some applications/features while car engine is on or when car is moving? It will ensure that driver will not try to use those features while driving hence no distraction.

I agree Alpesh. And I would put it slightly differently. I think in the future we will see a mix of gesture and voice recognition technology within cars that will be able to identify that the car driver is issuing instructions. There will also be intelligence to measure the attention divide of the driver between driving and other non-driving activities. If the non-driving tasks will seek or take more attention than a prescribed value, a personal assistant application will dissuade the driver from using the non-driving related applications/features. At dangerously high levels of attention divide, certain non-critical applications/features will automatically turn off in the interest of safety. We will have to resort to technology to control technology distractions within the car.

Sounds like a good-to-have feature in short term, but a must-have feature in medium term :)

'Being connected' and 'being looked-after' are going to be the USPs !

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