Monday, October 18, 2010

Social networking while driving becomes a reality

EL SEGUNDO, USA: Just when you thought it was safe to go back on the road, a new driver distraction has arrived: social networking for motorists.

With use of social networking services among drivers on the rise, automakers and their technology suppliers are using voice-control solutions to improve safety, according to the automotive research firm iSuppli Corp.

“The automobile is no longer a communications dead zone that prohibits drivers from staying connected to friends and family via various options such as calling, texting and even tweeting and Facebooking,” said Anna Buettner, analyst and regional manager for EMEA automotive research at iSuppli.

“With the expanding array of communications options, many drivers are willing to take the risk of an accident simply because they want to read or reply to a text message or check and update their preferred social media site. iSuppli believes that voice-activated infotainment solutions can have a significant impact on minimizing driver distraction when engaging in social networking activities.”

US OEMs take the lead
Ford Sync has set the standard for voice activated in-vehicle communication systems. And now, by providing app developers with the Sync Applications Programming Interface (API), Ford is allowing users to access apps, such as OpenBeak, Pandora and Stitcher, within the car, all done in a safe manner, leveraging voice commands and steering-wheel controls so drivers keep their hands on the wheel.

Most recently, General Motors’ OnStar joined Ford in its efforts and announced—via Twitter—that it is developing new functionality in the coming months to its Gen 9 hardware platform, including integration with Facebook.

OnStar is scheduled to introduce an upgraded system soon that links vehicles to the social media site Facebook and translates text messages to voice, and vice versa. In other words, OnStar subscribers will be able to verbally update their Facebook status via audio recordings and/or listen to their most recent news feeds through the OnStar Virtual Advisor feature. They will then be able to respond, using one of four pre-set responses.

Meanwhile, the telematics service provider is also working on other solutions, with rumors that it is integrating the Trapster speed trap detection system, but this has not been officially confirmed by either General Motors or OnStar.

To further encourage drivers to keep their eyes on the road, OnStar also is conducting tests for voice-based texting. This feature would enable customers to have their text messages read to them using Bluetooth. Bluetooth allows users to connect their mobile device to their vehicle and receive automated text messages. With a single button press on the steering wheel, users can reply back to a text by verbally selecting one of four pre-set replies.

A cheaper and less elaborate solution to the problem of driver distraction caused by using Facebook, Twitter and applications alike may just be coming from the app world itself.
Numerous app developers have noticed that drivers are texting and using their favorite apps while driving and have created a number of products and services to manage driver distractions from mobile phone usage. And the number of apps that deal with this problem is expanding quickly.

Irreversible trend
“Automotive OEMs, suppliers and app developers are realizing that calling, texting and even social networking are part—or will be part—of everyday driving for an increasing number of motorists,” Buettner said.

“With the proliferation of smart phones, the trend seems irreversible. As with the take-off of Bluetooth for hands-free calling and mobile device integration, there are ways to curb such distractions and voice-recognition control may be the key for automotive applications. Finding and implementing a way to safely integrate social networking and other apps in the car is more feasible than fighting the trend, as is confirmed by Sync and OnStar’s latest moves."

Source: iSuppli, USA.

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