As we inch toward the bleeding edge of cockpit chaos, there appears no end to the diversity and in-your-face demand for attention that product makers thrust upon motor-vehicle drivers around the world. In fact, based on figures published by the Consumer Electronics Association, the average driver purchases two new in-car devices each year.
The result: Drivers are presented with every safety, convenience, entertainment and productivity device or service that one can imagine. More is on the way. The reason for this proliferation of in-vehicle products and services? Drivers are bored. A plain-vanilla AM-FM radio with cassette just doesn't pull us out of highway hypnosis. Enter the CD, DVD, Playstation, navigation system, e-mail, news on demand, satellite radio.
U.S. drivers spend an average of 59.64 minutes per day in a car. In Europe, the average is 44.82 minutes. Surveys indicate a high intent on the part of drivers to purchase telematics, navigation, hands-free communication and mobile multimedia products to save time, improve safety and boost convenience.
Fundamentally, the act of driving takes the full body and mind, but for many of us, driving is automatic-in fact, we take it for granted. We know that if we look at our mobile phone keypad and screen to dial a 10-digit access code, 11-digit phone number and 15-digit credit card number, and then at last a four-digit expiration date, we can do that without really looking at the road
The time required to dial just the 10-digit string by thumb and eye is about five seconds. During that time, at 60 mph you would have traveled 454.7 feet. Should traffic change, the general public typically cannot react more quickly than 0.18 to 0.20 second.
The eyes are used to getting visual confirmation of the hand actions. Next time you are driving, try to operate your radio, mobile phone or climate-control panel with your hands only-without looking at the device for confirmation. While you can train yourself to do it, it's not natural. Your eyes will leave the road-if just for a second. Next, try to change those devices with just your eyes. The point is that there is technology that allows you to operate controls in your vehicle, or obtain off-board services, without looking away from the road or using your hands.
Speech-recognition technology is getting better with each revision, but it's already at an acceptable level. It gives the driver the ability to control all in-vehicle devices and access to off-board services with hands and eyes, paying attention to the road ahead and reacting to traffic conditions.
Using speech recognition as a primary interface between drivers and devices, we can turn our attention to the devices that provide critical information.
- Navigation. Of the devices that provide a layer of safety, navigation is supreme. Knowing exactly where to turn makes the trip simple, easy and enjoyable. In-vehicle systems are increasingly being joined by off-board navigation services such as Webraska. The best value from these products and services comes if you can interact with them by voice while driving.
- Real-time traffic updates. Mix navigation with real-time traffic updates, such as TrafficMaster, and drivers can overlay route information on their navigation, allowing them to avoid accidents, construction or bottlenecks. This improves the driver's effectiveness, comfort and safety. There is no need to view a map. Voice instructions with a large, simple graphic display screen are sufficient.
- Mobile phone. It's essential to offer a car kit with speech-enabled, hands-free, eyes-free mobile phones. Companies have created specific systems designed to dial the phone, answer it, hang up and transfer calls using only voice. You can dial by speaking the number, saying the name or, as Communiport from Delphi Automotive Systems (Troy, Mich.) has done, search for the number from your Palm Pilot address book and dial that number.
- Telematic services. No matter how poorly understood by the public, telematics provides a clear benefit layer of safety and convenience to the driver. First, it monitors the vehicle for abnormalities, such as detecting a crash. Second, it provides voice interaction to a person or database that can help the driver understand puzzling situations or gain assistance in a situation that may cause stress. It also can help reduce the fear that some drivers have of being alone on an unfamiliar or unsafe roadway. Telematics service providers such as Onstar (General Motors; Detroit) are being joined by innovative services from upstarts MobileAria Inc. (Mountain View, Calif.) and Commroad, which provide services beyond safety and security. They provide efficiency and entertainment, at the sound of voice command. Voice Insight in Belgium has created a speech solution to allow a user to query any database by voice.
What makes these services and products truly helpful to the driver is the speech-user interface. Users need a speech interface that doesn't distract them and makes the conversation as natural as speaking to the passenger sitting next to them. Any dialogue between human and machine must be natural or the driver will become distracted by the amount of concentration taken away from the driving experience. Human attention is finite and one cannot provide more than 100 percent. The idea is to keep a driver's attention on driving as close to 100 percent as possible when designing a human machine interface (HMI).
Product makers should therefore focus on creating HMIs that are natural to use, forgiving of diverse interaction styles, adaptive to the human and, most of all, employ more than one way to interact with the device-including hands-free and eyes-free command and control of devices and services.