Cars and smartphones don’t mix well, but people insist on mixing them anyway…

As part of my summer road trip I had the pleasure to be in the passenger’s seat more than the driver’s for many, many miles. For a change, I had the opportunity to look at other drivers on the road and when stopped at intersections. And what I saw was frightening.

At least 10% (rough estimate) of the drivers I saw look down at their smartphone while driving. This study from last year says 35% look at their phones while driving. Over a third! I assume the rest of us look at our phones while stopped at a red light. This means that the law forbidding phone use while driving is not actually preventing phone use. It seems like the threat of the distracted driver losing his/her life and the lives of those in the car with him/her is also not enough of a deterrent.

Yes, the pull of the phone is stronger than life itself.

Which is why I am glad that smartphone and car manufacturers are trying to address this issue. Admitting that there is a problem and that the ban isn’t effective is the first step in finding a solution. An effective solution is not one that will prevent drivers from looking at their phone (such as a locked box in the trunk) but will make other options way more attractive. Such as…

  1. The no-screen solution with integrated voice interaction with the OS and applications. Ideally this should include unlocking the phone, launching an application, giving it commands and getting back the right response. Right now this solution seems half-baked. Often voice is only partially implemented and is reliant on the user launching the application first. Also, even though speech recognition has improved greatly in the last few decades, it still isn’t perfect, especially with all the ambient noise that exists in a car. And once a user experiences enough misunderstandings, they will abandon speech recognition and return to direct interaction with their phone’s screen.
  2. The car-screen solution with Apple and Google partnering with car manufacturers to integrate their respective operating systems with the car. This could work but from what I’ve seen most of these screens are part of the entertainment system in the center of the dashboard, not on the driver’s side. Even if the entertainment screen becomes just a passive display controlled by the phone’s applications (like a television with a Chromecast streaming device that is controlled by Android devices) it can still distract the driver’s attention when looking and interacting with it. And again, most control will be via voice commands, with the limitations discussed above.
The Navdy on-dash projector.  Source: Navdy

The Navdy on-dash projector.
Source: Navdy

Which is why I really like Navdy, a yet-to-be-launched portable device that allows almost distraction-less interaction with smartphones. Realizing that graphics are necessary to the UI and that a display cannot cause the driver to look away from the road, Navdy developed an on-dash projector that projects the interactions (not the entire display) onto a small, transparent screen that simulates a point of focus 2 meters out in front of the driver (that’s a bit more than six feet for the Americans in my audience.) This keep the driver focused on the road, even if there is information displayed on the transparent display.

The second feature I like is the new UI. Instead of projecting the entire smartphone display, or even a single app’s UI, Navdy has a pared down display with much less information on it. For calls this is an image and a name of the caller. For some apps this includes voice, such as reading of texts. There’s also, from what I can tell from the demo video, a set of tones and signals that are tied to the different functions and are an integral part of the interaction.

Finally, the demands placed on the driver are limited in good way. With the front-and-center display allowing the driver to keep his/ her eyes on the road, the Navdy doesn’t use touch commands from the user. Instead it relies on voice commands and gestures to interact and breaks down some commands into two steps that can be more easily be said or gestured.

Navdy will ship in early 2015 and I’m sure later models will look less clunky on the dashboard. Navdy is the first product I’ve seen that took a look at what drivers do with their smartphones while driving and instead of simply saying “don’t do it” came up with a very compelling solution. Can’t wait to try it.

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One thought on “Cars and smartphones don’t mix well, but people insist on mixing them anyway…

  1. Pingback: Why driver safety should come before exclusive partnerships… but data is too precious to give up | What it all boils down to

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