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Apple, Alphabet, AT&T – We Have a Problem

Apple, Alphabet, AT&T – We Have a Problem
by Roger C. Lanctot on 08-10-2016 at 12:00 pm

Poor Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Emmy award-winning chief medical correspondent for CNN, a neurosurgeon and professor and now an explainer of distracted driving as part of CNN’s weeklong report on Driving While Distracted which concluded last Saturday. He offers a detailed medical explanation of driver distraction as only a neurosurgeon could while more or less obscuring the reality that distracted driving is a lethal proposition and one that the responsible parties have failed to address.

– CNN Special Report: Driving While Distracted

Who is responsible for distracted driving? Obviously it’s the wireless carriers, the car companies and companies like Apple and Alphabet that are feeding the endorphin-drenched proposition of smartphone usage in cars. Dr. Gupta helps us understand the cognitive deficits brought on by various smartphone-related activities. Significantly, he declines to recommend a solution.

Just how serious is the problem? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that distracted driving is responsible for approximately 10% of all highway fatalities or about 10 deaths every day. Pretty serious stuff.

One of the daily Driving While Distracted (DWD) segments that unfolded this past week on CNN talks about potential solutions to the problem – but both of the solutions featured involve aftermarket devices that work with smartphone apps to disable or block certain functions while driving.

Like a dozen other distraction mitigation apps and devices introduced or demonstrated during the past 6-7 years in response to the emerging scourge, most of which have fallen by the wayside, there is no indication that these devices or their predecessors will see widespread adoption. There is no path to market described in the CNN segments, so the demonstrations of the two solutions – Cellcontrol and Groove – aren’t much more than feel good pablum.

Approaching the problem from the aftermarket essentially blames the victim – the driver, the user of the technology. These aftermarket devices put the onus on the consumer to curb their own “bad” but quite predictable and, according to Dr. Gupta, understandable behavior.

By the end of the week, the problem remains as intractable as it was at the beginning of the week. We hear from the victims and the experts but we don’t hear from the culprits: the wireless carriers, car companies, Apple and Alphabet.

Notably absent from the various segments is a consideration of Apple’s CarPlay and Alphabet’s Android Auto in-vehicle integration platforms. Apple’s offering replaces the familiar radio dial in the center console of the car with an icon-laden iPhone/iPad-like interface once a phone is connected. The Android Auto system substitutes a GoogleNow screen which all but begs for the driver’s attention to calendar and contact alerts.

As distracting as these two systems are, they are imminently superior solutions to using a smartphone without an in-vehicle connection. In fact, most drivers can’t be bothered with connecting their smartphones in their cars – the process for which can be both annoying and distracting – though it is intended to be neither.

In essence, whether the driver uses the smartphone interface provided by the car maker (some, like GM, go so far as to provide a hidden cubbyhole to remove the smartphone itself from view) or not, the smartphone in the car – which could be a lifesaver in the event of a crash – is, instead, a ticking time bomb of distraction.

The emergence of the smartphone has introduced a powerful location aware device capable of summoning assistance in the case of an emergency as well as communicating contextual alerts and navigation cues. The challenge for phone makers and car makers and application developers is to carefully tread the fine line between guiding and assisting or distracting the driver.

In a post-IoT world, devices ought to be inherently location aware. A car should not only sense the proximity of danger, it should also detect any attention deficits on the part of the driver. These systems ought to be simultaneously built into the car, the smartphone, and the wireless network itself.

The CNN DWD special overlooked a solution provider, Global Mobile Alert, which is working in close cooperation with the U.S. Department of Transportation to see its technology employed as part of the Affiliated Connected Vehicle Test Bed. The GMA technology is made available license-free to the more than 70 companies participating in the Test Bed for the purposes of testing and demonstration.

The GMA application will alert active users of smartphones to the proximity of traffic lights, railroad crossings, school zones and other hazards. The application will also communicate wirelessly the signal phase and timing of any traffic light to the driver during an active wireless call.

While distracted driving accounts for approximately 10% of all highway fatalities in the U.S., intersections are responsible for 33% of those fatalities. Enhanced location awareness, enabled by the smartphone, is the ideal solution to the problem – though the technology is best built into the vehicle as well.

The USDOT Test Bed is only one path to market for GMA. In connection with the Test Bed GMA has been reaching out to the 70 participating companies to ensure they have all obtained appropriate credentials and access to GMA’s code base. Meanwhile, GMA is reaching out directly to wireless carriers and car companies to seek the broadest implementation of its distraction mitigation technology.

Like the stricken families featured in the CNN videos, crash victims and distracted drivers alike, GMA’s chairman and founder, Demetrius Thompson, was himself hit twice by distracted drivers – events that served as the inspiration for the GMA application. The original application, developed before digital maps were widely available, combined the latitude and longitude of key locations with an alert based on the crosswalk chirp associated with assisting blind pedestrians.

The bottom line is clear. We have the technology to quell the crisis of driving while distracted. More details are available from GMA at www.globalmobilealert.com.

Roger C. Lanctot is Associate Director in the Global Automotive Practice at Strategy Analytics. More details about Strategy Analytics can be found here: https://www.strategyanalytics.com/access-services/automotive#.VuGdXfkrKUk

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