About two years ago I sat down with an engineer at Ford and he just wowed me. The reason, he was telling me about all these pretty awesome predictive solutions Ford was working on for the not so distant future that would be available in our car. More importantly, he was explaining what he called “the predictive” nature of our car. He wasn’t talking about my car tweeting to me or letting me know one of Susie’s Facebook friends was “unfriended” by Tommy as this was being sent to me via my in-car infotainment system. Rather, he was really sharing what I envisioned to be a truly connected car.

It’s taken me several editorials and many blogs to figure out where I believe the automakers might have gone astray with all this driver-distraction discussion. For years, OEM (original-equipment manufacturer) engineers would spend hours with me proudly sharing their views of the projects they were cooking up on for their companies. They would eagerly paint a picture of the future. After all they were the masterminds behind the high-tech safety features taking full advantage of radar, sensing, and even GPS (global-position system) solutions. With their engineering know-how they saw a world where automobile intelligence would talk to each other, sense surroundings, and report back to the transportation infrastructure almost entirely eliminating accidents, unless you intended to cause one.

This new car world would interpret traffic signals and road signs, all simply by using Wi-Fi and GPS. They will send out signals indicating their exact location and destination while essentially forming a train moving at the same speed and direction with all the other vehicles on the road. Via processing-related algorithms connected to the network car, communicate, and in time they would be alerted to hazards on the road and have the ability to take preventative actions for safety and accident avoidance, such as warning drivers of road hazards, upcoming heavy and/or stopped traffic, or even an icy road. Traffic lights and signs and other in-road infrastructure with heads-up displays would tell motorists of difficult road conditions and help you to maneuver through low-visibility conditions. All of this would be connected to the Internet with almost blazing speeds thanks to 4G/LTE, which handles a host of apps and devices within the vehicle.

But then somewhere along the way, something went awry. What was once about driver safety, which had always been a top priority for the engineer who had been sitting at the driver’s seat all along, was taken over by none other than marketers and bean counters who saw dollar signs driven by connected services. These folks recognized data meant services and services meant they could “cash-in” on consumers. Consumers would never be the wiser because they would be getting all this entertainment/infotainment option in the cabin of vehicle and they would be very pleased. What these wizards of Wallstreet failed to recognize is all of this infotainment was just compounding the already bigger problem of driver distraction. What’s more, automakers were influenced by the carriers, rather than letting the engineers sit behind the wheel. Had the automakers remained steadfast they might have realized by adding more infotainment into the dashboard they were driving head-on right into traffic.

Some of the carriers stand to gain a lot of money from these services while the car companies are getting blamed for creating too much distraction in the cabin and consumers are clearly saying they don’t want it. Connected World’s Quick Poll this week confirms it. Already almost 900 people revealed they do not want social media in their dash and they say it leads to greater driver distraction.

Perhaps the point here is we should think less about entertaining us while we drive and focus on connected–car technologies that provide onboard radar and sensor systems that automatically respond to the environment. These are the things such as lane-departure sensing, warning systems that alert us of another car in our blind spot, and technology that protects the car’s occupants in the event of a collision. All of this onboard technology is syncing up with portable devices—smartphones, tablets, and other entertainment gadgets—that drivers and passengers carry into the vehicles.

So I say it’s time the car companies go back to talking with their engineers. Maybe Ford had it right when its engineers where focusing on using data for predictive analytics. When I was talking to the Ford engineer and he explained predictive health—I’m not talking about the car’s health—rather he was referencing working with health providers to predict when a diabetic needs insulin, or the ability to determine if a driver is about to have a seizure. Just how awesome is that? Again, we had this discussion in late 2012.

I want to hear more about the cool stuff that Ford sees as the car of the future. I want to see more automakers getting me excited about how they hope to change our lives by connecting us in ways that are truly awesome, not just plain silly.

Want to tweet about this article? Use hashtags #distracteddriving, #distraction, #carriers, #automotive, #M2M, #data, #connectedcars, #invehicle, #voicecommands, #handsfree, #automakers, #Ford

3 comments so far

  1. Peggy, you are right on! If I hear one more auto CEO say that they put their customers’ safety ahead of their profits while promoting their infotainment systems, I am going to puke. I am a retired UNC faculty, and a computer design engineer who created super high- tech things for a career. You soon realize that there are times that the technology is not appropriate. Have you ever heard a pilot say “Don’t fly”? Well, I’m an engineer who is saying don’t put that stuff in the cars. It started for me over three years ago when I witnessed a UNC student drive her car straight into another student, a pedestrian, without slowing down or attempting to avoid the accident. The driver stopped her car, got out, called 911 and told the dispatcher “I was driving down the street, I did not see the girl, I hit her”, though the traffic, weather, and visual conditions were perfect. The victim, Krista Slough, her family and I formed a team that successfully lobbied the Chapel Hill Town Council to pass a first-in-the-nation ban on the use of phones, hand-held and hands-free while driving. The problem continues to get worse, and If we learned anything from Watergate, it is to “follow the money”. Where are the insurance companies on this? Why don’t they refuse to pay claims to the driver, not the victims, in these situation? They should be our strongest allies.

  2. Our company has been working on Text and Drive software solutions since 2009. Last year, unfortunately, we saw Distracted Driving become the #1 killer of teens in the US – more lethal than drunk driving. One of the biggest concerns is how the new on-board experience will include distracted driving solutions. Companies at CES this year seemed to be encouraging texting while driving as they introduced their infotainment advances.

    I built our flagship product, OTTER, to be compatible with many of the apps already on-board these new vehicles. Take a look at Pandora Radio, for example. When OTTER’s GPS Mode is active, all notifications are silenced, texts get an auto-reply and, unless Bluetooth is active, phone calls go quietly to voice mail. However, Pandora Radio plays on uninterrupted by incoming notifications. This is a simple example of how the safety side of this issue can be represented without quashing the evolution of the vehicle on-board systems. The technology has been available for several years and now is the time for automakers to start adopting software that allows their customers to make safe choices in their new connected cars.

    Erik Wood, Founder
    OTTER apps

  3. Peggy & Joe
    The Center for Design Research at the University of Kansas has been fortunate to work with Ford on several projects. We can say they are truly working on some great new technology for the car, unfortunately what makes it into production are things like opening the tailgate by waving your foot. Have you ever tried that? Just as hard as a field sobriety test. It has to do with consumer demands, although someone must have been out of the room when they pitched that one. I have a colleague here who also takes the stand of no device -period, but despite the amount of laws enacted to prevent it, there will always be those who risk the fine or even court death to get or receive that “important” tweet. We take a little different approach at mitigation by looking at a “workaround” meaning how can technology prevent engagement. If we leave it to the individuals or insurance companies, there will still be those who will find a way…sort of like water finding the right place to drip. What should be done is development of driving modes where certain procedures are not operable when the car is moving. We’ve looked at audio delivery of emails, text and other and the reality is that even with constant eyes on the road, your brain is still processing the information which means you’re distracted which means you aren’t completely focused on the task at hand -driving. We see applications being adapted like blind side notification (which has recently prompted talk of doing away with rear view mirrors) or tailgate cameras that are preventing many child (and dented fender) accidents. This has become such a big item that there is now talk of mandating them on ALL cars. Its hard to get the automotive companies to collaborate when they’re in the business of competition, but all it will take is the first one with a practical solution and and some initiative then the rest will follow. For now we’ve seen the person behind the curtain and they are doing some cool things, but one has to remember they are not in the healthcare business…so they need companies like Medtronics, Bayer and others to utilize the technologies available and partner in utilizing the resources now available in connected cars. Our maybe just someone like Elon Musk