WASHINGTON, March 26, 2013 – Today’s cars are getting smarter because drivers are bringing smart phones into their cars and because autonomous-driving systems are getting closer and closer to market availability. Indeed, the accelerating use of the smart phone has dramatically brought the issue of auto safety to the forefront, panelists attending the March Broadband Breakfast Club said on Tuesday.
Drivers want to have the kind of connectivity accessible via their smart-phone, but adapted to an interface suitable for driving, said panelists. Recognizing that drivers have smart phones, Anupam Malhotra of Audi said that “what we are trying to do is to build interfaces in the car that make it unnecessary to reach out to your smart phone.”
Malhotra described the “Audi Connect,” interface, which allows more than 50,000 subscribers to create a mobile hotspot within the car, conduct a Google search for destinations, and have the vehicle automatically reroute around traffic to the driver’s chosen destinations. This creates a “more complete driving experience,” said Malhotra, Senior Manager of Connected Vehicles at Audi of America.
Equally important, such a system is safer than using smart phones.
“There is an 800 times higher propensity to cross over lanes” if using a smart phone than using the automobile’s built-in interface for driving, said Malhotra. Audi’s internal safety analysis has allowed the company to realize that “as good as [smart phones] are, they require your full attention, and they are not designed to be used in the in-vehicle environment.”
Similarly, AT&T studies have found that drivers are 23 times more likely to crash a vehicle while texting and driving, said Jeff Stewart, Director of Wireless Public Policy at AT&T.
The concern over safety is motivating a new breed of “smart car” innovation that enables drivers to enjoy the fruits of broadband connectivity without the distraction of the smart phone interface.
For example, on the horizon is a smart car where “not only will the driver monitor a car’s activity, but the car could monitor the person,” added Stephen Bayless, Senior Director of Telecommunications and Telematics at Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITSA). ‘These next phase smart cars will know a driver’s personal settings and can direct them to their favored destinations.”
Malhotra said that at Audi, what began as a simple cartoon-style image on GPS navigation systems has evolved into a “user-connected experience via the Google Earth platform.” These developments allow users to “engage with their environments.”
But Malhotra added that the connection between smart cars and broadband-connected cloud platforms remains one of the biggest challenges ahead for the smart car community. This answer came in response to a question form moderator Russell Holly, the mobile editor of Geek.com, about why a car’s in-vehicle computer system couldn’t display a smart phone view much as Apple’s AirPlay allows a television to display an iPhone’s contents.
Much of the discussion at the Broadband Breakfast Club centered around panelists’ views that strict safety regulations are required as smart cars come to fruition.
Sometimes the push will be more regulatory. AT&T’s Stewart described his company’s “it can wait” marketing campaign that is designed to discourage drivers, particularly teen drivers, from text messaging.
“We are trying to stigmatize [texting while driving] so that it is a behavior that is no longer acceptable,” said Stewart.
Catherine McCullough, Vice President of the DCI Group, said that technology has proven over and over again that it has the “ability to adapt out of its own challenges. If you have a challenge created by technology, you can almost always find its solution via technology.”
McCullough announced the pending formation of a connected car alliance in which AT&T, Intel, Verizon Communications and others will be tacking these safety and other policy issues.
Audi Connect service already suppresses text messaging, as do the services of other manufacturers but Malhotra cautioned that the effectiveness of legal and regulatory controls may be limited.
“Behavior can be managed by enforcement, but that is not going to be a 100 percent solution,” he said. “At the end of the day, there is going to have to be some innovation by the automakers, the device makers, and the carriers” to find the interfaces that give drivers the information they want without compromising safety.
The other exciting development of smart cars pertains to the concept of the autonomous vehicle.
The concept may is more advanced than many people may realize, said Bayless, with forward collision warning system, automatic system breaks, lane change assistance and adaptive cruise control systems all available and on the market now, albeit primarily for luxury-class vehicles.
Likely to be available soon, he said, are cars that negotiate traffic jams for a driver – allowing the human drivers to relax in stop-and-go-traffic, with their cars taking over the controls.
Malhotra from Audi described his company’s efforts to pioneer an automatic parking technology, which the company previewed at January’s Consumer Electronics Show is Las Vegas. “A driver pulls up to a hotel entrance, and the vehicle communicates with the garage, navigates itself to a parking spot and radios its location back to its owner’s smart phone,” he said.
“We received reactions from ‘this is exciting, I want it now’ to ‘that’s just freaky’,” said Malhotra.
The divergent responses are one reason why social acceptability may be the most important force leading to the availability of new autonomous driving features, said he and other panelists.
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