Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Building a hands-free future

The end of my street is governed by a three-way stop. The other morning I was backing out of my driveway when someone rolled past the stop sign and came within inches of hitting me. I stopped, glared at him, and resumed driving. Two stop signs later, the same guy squeezed past my car (in the same lane), completely oblivious to what he was doing.

Why was he driving like this? Probably because he was deeply engrossed in a conversation on his cell phone.

Where I live, using a handset while driving has been illegal for over a year. You cannot talk, you cannot text, you cannot “Facebook”, you cannot Tweet — even if you're stopped at a red light. This makes perfect sense to me. As a driver, your primary responsibility is to control the vehicle. And yet I see people texting on the freeway, talking on their cell phones, and doing who knows what else on an alarmingly regular basis.

The QNX-powered BMW
ConnectedDrive system
Society has become obsessed with mobile devices, and it will take more than legislation to change its behavior. The answer, I think, is to embrace the behavior in a way that makes it possible to interact socially while maintaining control of the car. We’ve seen great progress in hands-free/phone integration, and BMW ConnectedDrive offers an example of how drivers can access email and other smartphone services more safely.

This is the tip of the iceberg. Integrating the handset with the infotainment unit is going to change the way you interact with your car. Intelligently designed apps, combined with multi-modal human machine interfaces, will let you Tweet or update Facebook using speech recognition, keeping your eyes on the road.

Without taking your hands of the wheel, you’ll be able to call a friend and decide that you want to go to dinner, do a local search to find out what’s available, check a restaurant review on Yelp, make a reservation, text your friend back with the time and place, and aim your navigation system at the restaurant. And you’ll be able to do it using natural language. None of this “please say a name” stuff.

Seems futuristic? It’s not. People are working on it today. In fact, QNX-based systems, such as Toyota Entune, already offer a taste of this hands-free and highly personalized future.

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