I recognize that auto makers clearly have to embrace the times and to ignore consumers' flat-out demand for smart phone and mobile accessibility would be bad business. But after reading through the various advancements and standards that Chuck so aptly summarized, I'm still missing the part where in-car connectivity is safer than ever.
The GPS and fleet applications--okay, I think there is great potential there and little concern for driver distraction. But how does the latest standards change the distraction factor when drivers are easily able to integrate their smart phones with the vehicle's main dashboard console, allowing them to text, check email, or browse online for local destinations? Making it more convenient doesn't change the fact that the driver is focused on the task, not the road. I, for one, can't concentrate on what my child or office mate is asking me when I'm engrossed in an email or reading something online. If I'm doing that in my car, I'm not engaged enough to stay on top of lane changers or sudden stops for traffic. An accident waiting to happen in my book.
I agree with Beth here. The distraction factor is huge, even just from someone talking to you when you're driving. And there's a big difference between occasionally glancing at the dashboard to monitor speed or heater/A-C controls and trying to insert a CD while driving, let alone looking at a screen.
Perhaps what would make the most sense is to put all the user interface electronics in the back seat, or make it only accessible from the front seat when the car is stopped or in park gear.
That is a really good idea, Ann. Most in-dash GPS will not let you set a new location while driving for fear of distraction. This same concept would work well because you would not be distracted while driving, but the people in the backseat could access the internet.
Beth: During the next decade, there's going to be a constant tug of war. Automakers will want to offer features that sell cars, but then those features are going to be questioned from a safety perspective. The truth is, safety will always be a step behind, largely because so many consumers want to bring their electronic stuff into the vehicle. Alex makes a good point: The ultimate solution is some form of autonomous driving. As much as we protest about driver distraction, the number of distracted drivers is going up, not down and that's going to continue to be the case.
I'm not sure I really get what autonomous driving is and how realistic that could be as a solution in terms of widespread adoption. The idea of putting your car on some sort of automated track sounds good on paper or in the movies (and I do like Alex's point about sparking some pretty major infrastructure projects), but how likely is that to happen on any kind of broad basis where it could really make an impact?
It's hard to believe, Beth, but autonomous driving doesn't involve a track or a so-called smart highway. In autonomous driving, the vehicle would drive completely on its own over a conventional road. The idea is theoretically possible; Google has one autonomous car that has already logged 140,000 miles on all kinds of different roads. GM claims the technology will be ready by 2020, but I think it will take a lot longer than that for consumers to warm up to the idea.
If that's the case, there will likely be even bigger trust issues surrounding autonomous driving compared to very real concerns and hesitations with new features like back-up cameras and driver alert systems. As a result, I agree Chuck. It will likely be years before consumers, en masse, warm up to the idea of a car that can drive itself.
You're right, Chuck, it may take time for us to accept autonomous driving, but the technology is already there. The Google car you mentioned actually drove from Google's headquarters in the Valley down to the Google office in L.A., so the car knows how to handle roads that remain a challenge for me.
The acceptance will come generationally, like most technology acceptance. I may feel uncomfortable about autonomous driving, but my 15-year-old daughter would embrace it quickly. She doesn't want to drive, she wants to text.
Regarding the generational aspect: I couldn't agree more, Rob. I remember my father saying he would never trust a car without a clutch. Before him, I'm sure there were family members who said they would never set foot in an airplane. That said, I wouldn't set foot in an autonomous vehicle.
I would step foot in the car as a novelty and perhaps on a trip that's straight and narrow--a highway jaunt where you sometimes rely on Cruise Control. That said, I'd still act like I was in the driver's seat.
That's the thing with Cruise Control--you're still acting like you're at the wheel and giving the drive your attention. With autonomous driving, it seems like you're encouraged to do other things--eat, text, email. That just doesn't seem right. If you don't want to drive (as Rob says), take the bus, hop a train, call a cab.
Beth, the issues you cite are why autonomous vehicles won't catch on for a long time. Most of us don't want to give up control, and for good reason. How often do our computers break down? How often do our cars break down? When they do, we want to be in control.
With the increasing communications capability in the modern auto, via both infotainment and telematics (not to mention GPS and the dozens of other on-board processor), I keep hoping that we'll see a revival of the Intelligent Vehicle Highway System effort of 20 years ago. That's the electronic version of "leave the driving to us," where cars are automatically separated on highways and properly staged on the entrance and exit ramps. It's actually a lot more practical than autonomous vehicles (though not as sexy), and would also constitute a huge infrastructure jobs program.
It would be great to see the IVHS (or some reasonably drawn facsimile) finally make an appearance after so many false starts and promises. Today's vehicles and systems are more than capable. I question whether this should be a government effort or (led by) private enterprise. Privately owned toll highways can dictate their own usage and vehicle requirements, as well as systems infrastructure. Working with vehicle manufacturers, integrators, and industry experts, they are in the best position to actually roll out a trial system.
Actually it makes sense for car connectivity to shift from the PC to the cell phone. Most smatphones have most of what you would need in connectivity, less the office tools like Word and Excel -- which wouldn't be used in a car at any rate. The cell phone is the logical solution -- especially with its app-heavy set of tools.
There are several evolutionary paths that may each be viable, but are competing with each other.
(1) Let the car host a WLAN to which laptops, smartphones in WiFi mode and the car's own systems can connect. This is what the in-car router is about. The Internet side of that router is a 3G, Wi-Max or 4G radio. Currently the service subscription for that costs about $40-$50 per month. You could view that at an evolutionary increment to the low-speed cell-phone subscription that many cars already have for On-Star and other "SOS Service" as well as for traffic updates to the Nav Systems. For most users, this is a bit expensive. Heck, I'm not even sure I will keep the "SOS" subscription for my Prius after the expiration of the "free" service for the first year that was bundled with the car.
(2) Let the car use the data service on the user's cellphone. That's an obvious evolutionary increment to how the car provides hands-free speakerphone support for my cellphone via a bluetooth hookup. This could use my cellphone as the internet connection for an in-car Wi-Fi network. The cellphone companies do not like us to do this (often called tethering) because it allows us to use more bandwidth from our cellphone. Frankly, I'd be happy to pay an additional $10 per month (but not a lot more than that) for my cellphone data plan to allow the phone to become a Wi-Fi access point for the benefit of my car and my laptop while travelling. But until this become "the standard way of doing it", we will not see cars become compatible with it.
Another issue that will become huge in the next 5 years is this: We have all experienced how a car radio wears out between 5 and 10 years of age (actually, it is usually the CD player that develops mechanical problems and forces replacement). Now that we no longer have a "car radio" but an integrated entertainment/navigation/vehicle management system, what is the field replaceable unit? Will this kill the ability to get an inexpensive aftermarket replacement system that is better than the original? Will we be stuck with having to buy a "new" (obsolete) $2,000 info/nav/computer from the car dealership's parts department when that CD drive goes bad?
RadioGuy, I think number 2 -- using the cell phone -- is the logical way to go. And yes, cell phone companies will want to charge for the extended bandwidth use. But anyone who has a teenager is already paying the additional fees.
Cell phones are moving at a quick speed to add functionality and speed. Seems that's the logical tool, since it leads the mobile world and there is sufficient competition in cell phones to ensure ongoing development.
I read the article and all of the accomopanying posts (to this point) and have yet to see how this really makes the vehicle better. Will all of these toys make the vehicle last longer? Get better mileage? Handle better in snow, rain or other hazardous driving conditions?
Autonomous driving? How is that going to work unless all vehicles are so equipped? What computer programming is going to account for a 16 year-old driver doing something stupid to impress a carload of kids? Until all vehicles are driving autonomously, I do not think any can safely anywhere other than a test track.
Rather than spend millions of dollars on electronic toys to amuse the driver, how about spending aome time designing an engine where I can get at the spark plugs. Or a body than can survive a 10mph rear ending without costing thousands to repair.
You may find this hard to believe, but I have been driving for almost 50 years and have never had the need to check e-mails or download a game. video or some fancy app while tooling down the road.
I agree with much of what you say, Tool_Maker, but unfortunately, not all the cars are built for you and me. As appalling as it may seem to us, automakers want to appeal to a large swath of consumers (mostly younger) who want this stuff in their cars.
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