These days, the sight of drivers with phones pressed to their ears is all too familiar. Unfortunately, though, the problems posed by such behavior are mounting. Some call it an epidemic, others say it's worse than drunken driving.
One solution to the dilemma would be to outlaw use of distracting technologies in the vehicle. But the question is, which technologies would you outlaw? Phones? Music players? Navigation systems?
In truth, consumers will have none of it. When the National Traffic Safety Board called for the "first-ever nationwide ban on portable electronic devices" earlier this year, the proposal was greeted with nationwide derision.
That's why automakers and suppliers are taking it upon themselves to improve the safety of devices that they're building and putting into vehicles.
Click on the photo below to see 14 examples of how car companies are studying the problem of driver distraction and how they propose to solve it.
The Ford Escape employs Integrated Blind Spot Mirrors to make it easier for users to see "blind spot drivers" while keeping their eyes on the road. (Source: Ford Motor Co.)
The use of touchscreens for simple tasks is an example of how designers have magnified distractions vastly. Had the horror of riding with my father in his base Prius - no bluetooth - while he attempted to set the heat & fan. In the sunlight.
I could not agree more that base controls functions should be able to be used, as one reviewer has put previously, with gloves on. Simple & easy. My opinion is that Ford has historically done a great job of this, & Subaru as well. Saab was an example, even before touchscreens, as to how to add complexity, & what I've seen of GM suggests they collaborated.
Touch screens in the car are a horror. Any controls that go on a screen should be able to be voice activated - maybe only voice activated.
Some of the clips in this slide show only add more flashing lights & distractions. I have no idea how that is construed to be a help, & I would never consider buying a vehicle with them.
The airplane analogy is certainly appropriate here.
During WWII, the bomber pilot spotted enemy fighters more often than his gunners...something like a 70/30 ration within his field of view. USAAF studies showed that the gunner, who's vision was focused some distance outside the aircraft, could not discern the incoming fighter until it was too late to respond. The pilot, however, was constantly changing his focus from the instruments, quick check of the exterior condition, scan the sky...etc. This changing focus apparently allowed him to detect a fighter's relative motion much sooner than the vision-fixed gunners.
This in itself contradicts what we safety nuts would like to believe. If extrapolated to a modern driver, we would expect the driver who scans his panel regularly and briefly, is essentially more alert and capable than one visually fixed 100 yards ahead of the car.
I suspect that the real difference is that a pilot during wartime realizes that his life is at immediate risk. Auto drivers do not, even when they have been accident victims multiple times......some people make good fighter pilots, others are just smoking holes in the ground.
ugh, I agree: vocal prompts and interfaces are a lot less dangerous and distracting to the driver than visual prompts. OTOH, any interruptions--including hands-free voice conversations--are still distractions and divert the driver's attention.
How about integrating the sensor information into a system that is already installed but could give natural awareness cues that don't distract your vision - the car stereo. When you are in an open car (convertable or windows open) or on a motorcycle you have the sounds of an adjacent car to warn when one is (or could be ) in a blind spot. How about taking the proximity sensor data (piezo or camera?) and generating a synthetic adjacent car sound into the surround sound system of the car stereo? If done intelligently it could provide the cues needed to maintain spacing without having the windows down and incurring the loss of a/c and other problems.
Bdcst, you make a great point that even a hands-free phone conversation can distract the driver. I find it interesting that conversations between the driver and a passenger doesn't seem to distract the driver -- but a hands-free phone call does. I think it's because the passenger is also watching the road and will suspend the conversation during high-attention driving moments. Someone at the other end of the phone call won't be aware of the moments the driver needs undivided attention. That's my theory.
I use voice recognition Blue Tooth linked speakerphones in my vehicles to provide full control of my cell phone which can remain in my pocket. And I've always had 2-way radios which require the use of a hand held microphone with a push to talk switch. In both instances with a little practice, one can minimize the degree of distraction by cultivating good multi-tasking habits. Problem is, you do have to practice to hone those skills. And recent studies have shown that even a hands free cellular conversation is a distraction from the primary task of driving. The more we multi-task, the less cognitive power is available for each task.
So, the best way to compensate for a reduction in road environment/vehicle control awareness is to add technology that will raise safety margins by adding some self piloting capability to the vehicle itself.
I have to disagree with you about haptic feed back being useful here for secondary controls. Haptics in touch screens inform the user they touched the screen, but you still have to look at it to see what specific spot was touched because a touch screen feels the same all over.
My opinion: Secondary controls (audio and climate, lights, etc.) should not require fine muscle control to operate and should be identifiable in peripheral vision and by touch. Neither is possible with a touch screen. Touch screens should be left to control only those things that are normally set and left alone.
I can see modifying my opinion regarding voice control, but I've not had experience with it yet.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.