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New Technologies, Apps that Help Drivers Focus On Driving

An unfortunate side effect of the digital age is that many smartphone users have trouble unplugging from their ever-present, efficient modes of communication—even while driving. According to www.distraction.gov, the official U.S. Government website for distracted driving, “Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving…” Distracted driving is no laughing matter; it is estimated that in 2012, 421,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes that involved a distracted driver—a 9% increase from the previous year—and 3,328 were killed. To combat the problem, especially among young people, the site offers a variety of downloadable materials to help educate drivers, from sample employer policies and press releases to public service announcements.

Google and Apple have been working on their own solutions to distracted driving: apps that block smartphone use (or the use of certain functions, such as texting), as well as high-tech technologies that integrate smartphone use with automotive infotainment systems. In April of 2014, Apple filed a patent application for a series of apps the company hopes will boost driver safety. According to an International Business Times article, it is believed that one of the proposed apps would use sensors to detect how fast an iPhone user is traveling and whether the user is in the driver or passenger seat. A related app could apparently detect the number of people in a car – if only one person is in the car, the phone would automatically shut down. Apple also announced the development of iPhone-automotive integration technology in 2014. Known as CarPlay, the technology functions as if the user’s iPhone is built into a vehicle’s dashboard, rendering the phone controllable from the center console (touchscreen or knobs) or through a Siri voice activation button on the steering wheel. For example, Siri will be able to send, read, and reply to text messages by voice without the user ever touching the phone. Currently, the Ferrari FF is the only commercially available vehicle that features Apple CarPlay, although certain Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Hyundai, and Jaguar models are set to include the technology in 2015.

Google, meanwhile, announced its own smartphone-automobile integration technology in 2014: Android Auto. Android Auto is designed to use the voice-command-based Google Now to operate navigation, communication, and audio functions on Android-based smartphones through voice commands or steering-wheel controls. Google Play Music and other music formats, such as Pandora, will also be accessible through the technology, as will navigation software. A ZDNet article reports that Google “has signed on a number of companies — including Hyundai and General Motors — through the Open Automotive Alliance and current Android Auto product, and an integrated Android OS for vehicles is a logical step-up for the firm.” And what about Microsoft? The same article notes that, “Microsoft has so far only revealed a concept infotainment system dubbed ‘Windows in the Car.’”

Bosch SoftTec, a company that specializes in automotive software, connected services, and smartphone solutions, has introduced its own new technology, dubbed mySPIN. As with Apple and Google’s offerings, drivers who link their devices to mySPIN can operate their apps through the vehicle’s touchscreen, controller, or steering wheel control. Bosch has collaborated with Jaguar Land Rover to introduce the mySPIN technology on select vehicles in 2015. MobileDay works within mySPIN to offer drivers a simple, reliable, and safe way to dial into scheduled calls with one tap from their vehicle’s touchscreen.

There are also a variety of apps available that will disable smartphones, or certain smartphone applications, while a user is behind the wheel. Below are just a few examples of currently available apps that help drivers focus on driving:

  • Safely Go, available as an Android App at no cost through Google Play, allows only calls and texts from 3 “VIP Contacts” (for example, family members or a boss) after the app is activated with one click. The app responds to texts with an auto-reply message that informs others that the user is on the road and driving safely. The app enables calls through Bluetooth or other hands-free devices, and gives the user access to only 3 “driving apps,” (such as maps, navigation, or music).
  • DriveSafe Mode can be downloaded for either Android or iPhone devices. The app completely prevents texting, emailing, and other distractions while driving on Android devices and—on both Android and iPhone devices—creates push alert warnings if the app is shut off while driving, blocks phone use within a few seconds of the vehicle moving, and is configurable to allow a younger user to call parents while driving. New features being developed include allowing navigation and music apps while driving, speed alerts, and mileage tracking. Users must register for an account and select a payment plan before downloading the app.
  • Sprint offers its own free Drive First App for Sprint customers. The app automatically sends calls to voicemail and silences email and text alerts when a vehicle’s speed reaches 10 mph. Exit and 911 emergency buttons on the home screen of a locked device allow users to override the app.
  • Live2Txt, available for Android devices for $1.99 silences audio call and text notifications with one button click and sends a customized response alerting the person that the user is driving. Users can download the app from Google Play.

Whether you’re a CEO seeking to promote safe driving among employees or an individual who wants to detach from the temptation of using your smartphone when you should be focused on the road, technology solutions are available to help (and more are on the way).

Drive safely!