It occurs to me that one of the big, and growing, killers and causes of accidents on our roads is the use of technology while driving. Now don’t get me wrong. Those who read my posts know that I find technology to be the saviour, rather than the bane of mankind. The question is not in the technology, but in its application.
Here are some ways that technology has improved upon the driving experience, followed by some ideas I have to make it even better.
I grew up in inland Australia. Those that haven’t been there should realise that a trip to just about anywhere took a long time. Trips to the seaside or the ‘big smoke’ (which is what we called the semi-mythical place known as Sydney) took in excess of eight hours driving (not including stops). This was accomplished in a Mazda 1300 station wagon which was, for no reason I can now ascertain, brown. It also only had two doors. Go figure.
Now my parents got this thing new. Brand new. So it was cutting edge in a family budget sort of way. The only entertainment we had on these epic adventures was to play ‘I spy’, count the various vehicle types we passed, sing, or listen to our eight-track player. Thankfully the eight-track spent most of its time broken. I say ‘thankfully’ because we only had one cassette for it and after a while, one can get rather sick of the Beatles.
We also had an AM radio (otherwise known as a ‘wireless’), but that worked only while the car was with 20km of a major transmitter, or was pointed in the right direction, which made going around twisty s-bends in the mountains an interesting proposition with the wireless on. I think I have heard about 30% of all the top hits of the 70s and early 80s.
Air conditioning was about how fast you could go with the window down.
Now we have much better technology. While I find it sad that people force themselves to stay glued to screens while nature passes them by, you must admit that people love the idea of being able to view a movie or catch up on facebook while travelling in air-conditioned comfort. Everyone, in some cases including the driver, is able to easily install a screen of their own, allowing for a plethora of games, movies, quizzes and entertainment.
I feel that it’s probably good for kids to glue their nose to the window and get excited the first time they see the ocean, or a new bird, or their first glimpse of a big city, I also feel that these tools are excellent for preventing boredom and fights on ultra-long hauls. It’s in our nature these days to stay connected, so I find it a wonderful thing that we can continue to do that hundreds of kilometres from the nearest town.
Navigation used to be a wonderfully hit-and-miss affair. After driving in country towns all year, heading into a major metropolis had its own special kind of headaches, particularly in that cities are in a habit of changing their streets around to accommodate a greater traffic flow (and this was a priority in the 70s and 80s). As a result, the quiet country road you were used to driving along may have been transformed into a massive six-lane highway with off-ramps unexpectedly sending you places you don’t want to go.
It also gets worse when your street map dates from the late 1960s but because due to aforementioned once-a-year travel, there was no economic benefit in purchasing a newer one. This led to many interesting discussions, as well as deviations to places that I’ve never heard of before or since (and may, in fact, not even exist in this dimension at all).
Ohh you’ve made a left instead of a right. Okay, go back the way you came then turn off at the Skukkhil pit and keep going until you pass old Xquitil’s house with the green slurgits on the roof, you can’t miss it…..
The GPS is a wonderful thing. Long gone are the days of standing by the road and arguing heatedly over a map while the car’s radiator slowly boils in the Australian summer. I’d go so far to say that the GPS has saved more marriages than any counsellor.
GPS itself is actually rather old technology (from the 60s, believe it or not), but it became ‘civilianised’ after the downing of flight KAL007 (seriously! I don’t make this stuff up!) by a political entity called the Soviet Union (you may have heard of this place in history, where it resides on the ash-heap).
That’s a pretty flag. Didn’t I see that in a video game once?
In time, GPS went from trunk sized, to suitcase sized, to desktop sized, to pencil-box sized, to smaller than your phone. It has become so ubiquitous that it is in just about every smart device. We can directly navigate to our place of destination, even with thousands of intervening kilometres, with an accuracy that is measured in metres, guided by a tiny multi-function device that we can hold in our hand.
I’ve said it before: Living in the future is absolutely amazing.
SO WHAT’S SO BAD?
I’m glad you asked.
The thing that’s bad about all this is the interface.
While computers are good at doing multiple things at once, people are rather awful at it. We like to think we’re good at it, though, and that’s a problem. If it’s involving other senses such as our tactile senses, that’s just fine so long as we can continue to look at our primary task. What’s not fine is when we have to use our eyes to ascertain that we’ve found the correct radio station, or set the CD into the machine, update Facebook, text, or just plain old watch the movie that’s playing in the centre console. People can and have crashed fatally doing one (or more) of all the above.
The other pictures were too depressing, so I put this one in instead.
HOW DO WE CHANGE THE INTERFACE?
It’s rather easier than you imagine. We have this technology. It is in the process of being born right now. It’s called ‘google goggles’ (a terrible name that I expect to see changed at some point in time) and is combined with a wonderful little technology called ‘Bluetooth’. I’ll throw in ‘voice recognition’ as well, but we all know that never works quite as well as advertised.
With these inventions, you could reduce driver distractions and revolutionise the way we drive cars into a much safer proposition.
- You could sync your phone and goggles to your car
In some cars, it is already the norm to sync your mobile to your car to allow hands-free dialling and call receiving. I think this is fantastic. If we can kick that up a notch to allow the vehicle to verbally read any incoming texts, as well as use voice-to-text technology, you would find that text-driving would be much easier. You could even sync your goggles to allow a small indicator tell you who is texting, what the message is (if under a certain number of characters so it doesn’t spam your driving), or any incoming phone numbers. The driver would never have to take his hands off the wheel to do any of this. Facebook updates (although probably not reading it) can also be done via voice-to-text.
- Voice-command the car
Some people name their cars. This takes it to a higher level. Once active, the car ‘listens’ for its ‘name’. Once it hears that, it will undertake any command given with regards to the environmental or entertainment controls. If this seems a little far-fetched, be aware that Samsung and Apple have similar listening technology enacted on their phones for voice commands. Naturally, I would think it best to personalise the name and response, and I would also expect vehicle manufacturers to provide a variety of different pre-recorded voices as the vehicle spoke back to the driver.
- GPS sync
Now imagine, if you will, the GPS synced both to the car and to your goggles. It might look something like this:
Hair and clothing styles not necessarily indicative of 2015
But what would it look like to the driver? Well, imagine your existing GPS but with the directions virtually projected onto the road in front of the car. You would never need to take your eyes off the road to look at directions again. You would have a visual, as well as an audible, reminder of your directions, maps, distance and time-to-target. This brings me to my last point…..
- Do away with the dashboard
Why have dashboards at all? If we can sync the car directly to a visual interface that displays information no matter which direction we are looking in (because it’s right in front of our eyes), then we can constantly be updated with our speed, engine instruments, gear indicator, proximity alert, and all other dash-mounted instruments in a virtual, programmable, and personalised interface. This would also be virtually projected directly in front of the driver, allowing him or her to constantly be updated in a much better manner. Cars with actual dials would be as laughable and anachronistic as steam gauges (I won’t say ‘steam engines’, because I rather like the direction steam technology is going these days). The benefit would also be in construction, allowing for better placement of airbags and safety barriers for the driver.
Well, naturally, all these things tend to run on batteries of some sort. People also do tend to worry a bit about security for their precious phones/internet/whatever (while at the same time insisting that their birthday, the word ‘password’ or 1111 are viable passwords).While I can’t see any seriously long-term batteries that don’t rely on nuclear decay turning up anytime soon, I would assume that a universal (may I say ‘micro-USB’?) cable directly connecting from the headrest of the car should solve power and data security concerns.
SO WHERE TO NOW?
Well, we’re not there yet, but we stand on the cusp of a new technology. We’re not about to get flying cars anytime soon (read my other posts) but this…. THIS is do-able. In a world where vehicle accidents are forever increasing due to our own increasing demands on technology (and its on us), simplifying the interface and streamlining it would be the best technological solution for everyone.