Google and Apple in race to make cars 'the ultimate mobile device'

Interactive smart dashboards are the future apparently - but how will driver distraction be avoided?

by Sarah Barth   January 3, 2014  

Glasgow Traffic (2).jpg

Google and Apple are engaged in an arms race, competing to create smart car dashboards that feature apps, music and navigation technology based on their mobile phones.

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week will showcase an Android collaboration already underway between Audi and Google, bringing apps to a satnav-style dashboard device, while Apple has already negotiated deals with BMW, Daimler, Mercedes and Honda to bring its iOS technology to their dashboards.

Apple say that their developments, including the voice-activated Siri, will mean drivers do not have to stop or pick up their phones illegally to make calls or send text messages, but the incorporation of ever more sophisticated and technology in cars could prove distracting for drivers.

Thilo Koslowski, an analyst at Gartner, told the Wall Street Journal: "The car is becoming the ultimate mobile device. Apple and Google see that and are trying to line up allies to bring their technology into the vehicle."

In line with this prediction, the Telegraph reports that: “GM’s chief executive recently announced that all models from 2015 onwards with 4G chips to provide constant internet connections without the need for a smartphone.”

Increased technology within cars might force legislators to tighten up on anti-distraction laws. Already in the US, some in-car screens are prevented from doing anything but GPS, and many in-car driver entertainment systems will not operate while the vehicle is moving.

Enforcement of these laws though, like mobile phone use while driving, might prove very difficult.

As we reported recently, a driver in California has been issued with a ticket for wearing another new technology - Google Glass eyewear - while driving, in what’s believed to be the first case of its kind.

Cecilia Abadie was initially pulled over for speeding on October 30, when the officer noticed the high-tech eyewear which runs Android apps and has a display next to the wearer’s eye.

The patrolman judged that the display impeded Abadie’s field of view and contravened California’s anti-distraction laws which forbid visible displays in cars, with exceptions for specified devices such as GPS units.

Fortunately for California’s cyclists the rules appear to only apply to motor vehicles. That means that cyclists usingGoogle Glass are probably in the clear for the moment.

Of course, driverless cars are currently in development, which could solve the problem of driver distraction altogether.

We reported how Volvo is to begin a large scale trial of driverless cars on public roads within three years.

The project, Drive Me, has the ambition of eliminating deadly car crashes in Sweden, according to Erik Coelingh, technical specialist at Volvo Car Group. Volvo’s aim is that no-one should be killed or seriously injured in one of their cars by 2020.

People who buy the autonomous XC90 cars will be able to forget about the controls on around 30 miles along 50 commuter routes around Sweden’s second largest city, including motorways and frequently jammed junctions. The cars will even be able to park themselves.

In a collaboration between Volvo, the Swedish Transport Administration, the Swedish Transport Agency, Lindholmen Science Park and the City of Gothenburg, there will be 100 ‘autonomous drive’ cars on the streets of Gothenburg by 2017, in an attempt to demonstrate how much safer self-driving cars are.

22 user comments

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Oh great. That's just what we need. I thought the research that's been done suggested there's very little difference in effect on driving between talking on a hand held or a hands free phone. And they're basically saying hands free is legal so let's build a load more stuff into something you don't have to hold. That'll make the roads safer At Wits End

posted by graham_f [125 posts]
3rd January 2014 - 8:11

30 Likes

Having ploughed into a bunch of cyclists then a crowd on the pedestrian
crossing the driver was heard to say ...

"I was distracted when the car tweeted me ...."

It gets worse not better Angry

still on the 3rd switch-back of Bwlch !

posted by therevokid [766 posts]
3rd January 2014 - 8:19

28 Likes

Hopefully hands-free phone kits will also be banned. Car manufacturers know this technology has issues and safety campaigners have already raised concerns. But the industry wants to attract sales to younger drivers as these people are less interested in motor vehicloes than previous generations.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2308 posts]
3rd January 2014 - 8:44

14 Likes

Driver distraction won't be avoided. The govt might pass some legislation that will never, ever, be policed, and then we'll all get self-driving cars. But, due to legal issues, the human will in theory still have to have control - in practise meaning "occasionally tell the car which road to be on at a junction".

posted by nuclear coffee [168 posts]
3rd January 2014 - 9:16

25 Likes

It's too easy to say these technologies make things worse, the results of the interactions do get tested, and can also be applied to the benefit of the drivers safety. (withholding calls on the right moment in difficult traffic circumstances etc.) It does need to get standardised what cognitive load is and how much can be tolerated (and in what instance).
in country's like Japan and South Korea it's really common for drivers to even have dvd's or tv on during driving (mainly during traffic jams) in these country's the cognitive load tolerance is a lot higher then in Europe/US. (probably not so many cyclist on the road though)

posted by KnightBiker [46 posts]
3rd January 2014 - 9:38

17 Likes

I think the tone of this article is perhaps a little sensational in terms of what is actually being reported here (or at least the comments it is intended to provoke)...

It's not about having a big screen in your dash on which you can view your Twitter feed whilst driving, it's about having easy-to-use systems in vehicles which better integrate with each other and with drivers' mobile phones, and thereby moving drivers' attention away from using handheld devices, whether mounted or otherwise.

Yes, a number of higher-end vehicle manufacturers have had proprietary smartphone-like systems in their cars for a while now but, by and large, they're extremely expensive and very fiddly to use.

With my driving hat on, I would personally welcome an affordable system based on something like Android or iOS that integrates things like navigation, entertainment and the secondary controls in the car, as well as linking up to the mobile network to allow web access, for instance, to direct me to the cheapest local petrol station if I'm in an unfamiliar area.

As OldRidgeback kind of alludes to above, younger drivers are already tech-savvy with mobile operating systems and would undoubtedly see them as desirable in vehicles, but the key for manufacturers is in ensuring any driver knows how to use the system properly, rather than whizzing past a school with their head buried in the manual trying to work out how to switch on Radio 4!

Suffice to say though, access to apps like Facebook, Twitter and the like should naturally be disabled whilst driving, or just not supported on the platform at all, but that wouldn't be difficult to achieve.

I'm interested to see how this pans out myself. My mobile phone (an ageing Galaxy S2), which is activated by voice control whilst in the car, replaced both my TomTom for navigation and my CD player for listening to music some time ago now.

posted by parksey [295 posts]
3rd January 2014 - 9:40

18 Likes

You make good comments on this. I actually design these systems. There is one already launched on the market in the Infiniti Q50. This has an Android based system built into the vehicle and connects to a users smart device, including Android and iOS devices, to access the network and applications running on the smart phone. Yes that includes email, calendar, Facebook etc. but don't get panicked by this yet...

The whole point, which seems to be ignored by the media, is that in vehicle systems are governed by driver distraction regulations. This covers things like the maximum number of actions the driver can take to access a function, the glance time of the screen and a whole host of other parameters like not permitting alpha keyboards when the vehicle is moving, text sizes, colour contrasts etc. Any system designed and fitted to a vehicle has to comply with these regulations. The regulations are being tightened everywhere in the world as well. The US launched a much more stringent set of requirements in 2013. This can only be seen as a positive thing for road users. As a vulnerable road user I wonder if it is enough but no matter how much you try to legislate against people using their phones or third party sat nav systems in a car they will still go ahead and do it. The fact is user interfaces on phones and even sat nav boxes are not subject to any controls for driving distraction. If that phone or sat nav is integrated into the car system it is regulated and the user is then able to benefit from the device but in a 'less' distracting way. I'll take any reduction in driver distraction as a positive.

I expect the next round of driver distraction regulations to have a requirement to lock out the smart phone when it is in a vehicle only permitting it's use through the in vehicle systems. That will be a much bigger step forward but that can't happen until the basic integration has been more widely adopted.

It's great to have sensationalist headlines but the bottom line is that this is a very significant step forward in controlling use of connected devices in vehicles.

posted by paulrbarnard [147 posts]
3rd January 2014 - 10:22

29 Likes

Get ready for more of this:

The Human Cyclist A blog. Try it, you might like it...

sm's picture

posted by sm [355 posts]
3rd January 2014 - 10:59

21 Likes

Ah, Paul, don't expect the hotheads to listen to you - the sky will fall, whatever sense you talk! All things motorised are evil and driven by pathological mass-murderers, and anything that 'improves' these machines and agents of Satan is to be demonised and panicked about.

As far as I'm concerned, anything that make the interface between the driver and the vehicle simpler is likely to be a good thing. As you say, legislation about built-in technology is pretty strict; let's hope legislation of bolt-on technology catches up.

posted by TimC340 [55 posts]
3rd January 2014 - 11:07

18 Likes

This is all going on while the likes of Boris are calling for cyclists to be banned from wearing earphones.

Touch screens for the driver to control are completely the wrong interface as they require the driver to look away from the road.

ANY device or car manufacturer pushing the use of in-car touch screens is guilty by association of any injury or death arising from the use.

These devices need to be tactile so they can be operated by feel only.

Any use needs to be met with instant ban, large fine, and seizure of the vehicle, basically as if the driver was drunk, with a long prison sentence should they break the ban.

posted by gazza_d [268 posts]
3rd January 2014 - 12:16

32 Likes

All things motorised are evil and driven by pathological mass-murderers, and anything that 'improves' these machines and agents of Satan is to be demonised and panicked about.,

when I'm in mass murderer mode I can use the steering wheel controls to thumb thru my contacts and check on the screen that I'm going to call the right person - this is convenient but a lot less safe for other road users than having to pre program voice tags to call people (20year old technology) - oh and I can check the song/artist and read the scrolling weather, no panic just good old plain concern - I can recall when drivers with good morals killed people when turning over and reinserting a cassette - as a cyclist I'm pretty concerned that someone approaching me at 80km/hr isn't looking at the road - it's not improvement its distraction.

antigee's picture

posted by antigee [174 posts]
3rd January 2014 - 13:06

15 Likes

"Fortunately for California’s cyclists the rules appear to only apply to motor vehicles. That means that cyclists usingGoogle Glass are probably in the clear for the moment."

In the clear - but still just *SO* stupid!

Buddha said:

Believe nothing, No matter where you read it,
Or who has said it, Not even if I have said it,
Unless it agrees with your own reason
And your own common sense.

mad_scot_rider's picture

posted by mad_scot_rider [566 posts]
3rd January 2014 - 13:12

27 Likes

The point has been fundamentally missed if the belief here is that these collaborations will result in cars basically having iPads in the centre of the dash which can be used to nail all 3 stars on that tricky Angry Birds level while driving to work...

It's simply about car manufacturers learning from software developers on how to make their own vehicular-based systems better integrated and fundamentally easier to use, i.e. exactly where we are now with the likes of mobile phones and tablets (at least if you know how to use them properly).

The future is clearly voice-control for these systems, a technology which is widely available on phones, tablets, games consoles, TVs, and of course plenty of cars already. Even if such devices did require a button press or two to activate them (much like on a phone), it's no different to pressing a button to put the window down, put the heated screen on, turn the radio on, whatever. I fail to see the added distraction?

At the end of the day, bad drivers will always be bad drivers, regardless of the technology available in cars.

posted by parksey [295 posts]
3rd January 2014 - 13:41

11 Likes

TimC340 wrote:
Ah, Paul, don't expect the hotheads to listen to you - the sky will fall, whatever sense you talk! All things motorised are evil and driven by pathological mass-murderers, and anything that 'improves' these machines and agents of Satan is to be demonised and panicked about.

As far as I'm concerned, anything that make the interface between the driver and the vehicle simpler is likely to be a good thing. As you say, legislation about built-in technology is pretty strict; let's hope legislation of bolt-on technology catches up.

Well said. Both apple and google have been expending significant amounts of energy on voice-based interfaces: that could significantly improve the safe usability of non-core functions of the car (something that doesn't justify a steering-wheel level control currently - aircon, satnav, radio). Blindly banning such a thing when people could (and therefore WILL) use devices like their phone (emphatically NOT designed for safe use whilst driving) to accomplish the same thing would be very stupid.

posted by nuclear coffee [168 posts]
3rd January 2014 - 14:43

18 Likes

I trust the ability of the car to drive itself more than the person behind the wheel to

posted by jarredscycling [456 posts]
3rd January 2014 - 14:55

15 Likes

I don't wish to be sensationalist, but I fail to see how this integration is a 'good thing'. I'm looking at buying a large estate car to accommodate my growing family, and the Audi and BMW offerings include:

- Speech recital of emails, and reply via voice dictation (no comments on how much mental processing resources you might be dedicating to the wording of that email that is, after al, too important to wait until you reach the office)
- Social media; you can check facebook statuses, FFS!
- A bewildering array of apps

Sure, you can say that drivers will try and do these things anyway, but the fact is that currently, texting at the wheel is something which, rightly, provokes widespread condemnation and requires a certain amount of effort. These advances will just make it easier to be distratced, particularly if combined with all the assistance aids such as cruise control which auto-adjusts to the vehicle speed in front, lane departure warnings etc. A cyclist on the road just increasingly becomes an unexpected hazard for which the driver needs to actually be alert.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3468 posts]
3rd January 2014 - 18:07

14 Likes

Worth noting:

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2014/01/scientific-odds-using-c...

Anything that distracts you from driving your vehicle increases the risk of crashing.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2308 posts]
3rd January 2014 - 19:55

19 Likes

parksey wrote:

It's not about having a big screen in your dash on which you can view your Twitter feed whilst driving, it's about having easy-to-use systems in vehicles which better integrate with each other and with drivers' mobile phones, and thereby moving drivers' attention away from using handheld devices, whether mounted or otherwise.

But why do drivers need anything to be 'integrated' with their mobile phones?
Just ban the use of such devices in cars, fit something to disable them if necessary.

I don't get it. If you are driving, you concentrate on driving, end of story.

Quite funny that the same people who think this is fine seem to be those moaning about cyclists with headphones.

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [746 posts]
3rd January 2014 - 21:50

12 Likes

TimC340 wrote:
Ah, Paul, don't expect the hotheads to listen to you - the sky will fall, whatever sense you talk! All things motorised are evil and driven by pathological mass-murderers, and anything that 'improves' these machines and agents of Satan is to be demonised and panicked about.

Same old strawman stuff. Yawn.

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [746 posts]
3rd January 2014 - 21:51

20 Likes

This is a good example of where businesses at large, and vehicle operators in particular are more concerned about peripheral things (profit making, Tweeting, etc) than concentrating on driving.
The "Presumed Liability" on the Government E-Petition website is designed to refocus operators' understanding of their responsibility when using hazardous vehicles. Please consider signing the petition and passing this message on to anyone (clubs, etc) who may be supportive.
Link: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/57804

Happy and Safe Cycling
Peter

posted by Posh [46 posts]
4th January 2014 - 10:43

8 Likes

Just had another thought...............Should this be added to the NCAP rating for the car? The more distracting the clutter, the lower the rating?
Who do I contact to get this considered as part of the assessment?

posted by Posh [46 posts]
4th January 2014 - 11:46

9 Likes

These things clearly need strict(er) limits.

No messaging, no comms, the only thing allowed should be an emergency popup to call someone if necessary (urgent / emergency).

And this is a good place for eye-tracking - turn the screen to blank if it's looked at for a fraction over 2 seconds.

posted by kie7077 [564 posts]
5th January 2014 - 15:13

5 Likes