May 29, 2015

Head’s Up: “A horrible idea” soon to arrive in a vehicle near you

Imagine for a moment if this was proposed for anything other than the motor vehicle – a high-risk, possibly deadly technology justified because people are going to do it anyway.

From the New York Times: Windshield Devices Bring Distracted Driving Debate to Eye Level.

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The devices project driving information and data streamed from a smartphone – maps, speed, incoming texts, caller identification and even social media notifications — to hover above the dashboard. Hand gestures or voice commands allow drivers to answer a call or hang up. …

These emerging display devices have become part of a debate over whether technology can provide safer ways for people to multitask while driving. Safety advocates argue that technologies that try to minimize the dangers of multitasking are based on the false premise that drivers can safely attend to the road while juggling social communication — and are, in turn, encouraging a risky behavior. The argument on the other side boils down to a simple notion: Drivers are going to do it anyway, so why not minimize the riskiest kinds of multitasking, like looking down at the phone or handling it? …

“It’s a horrible idea,” said Paul Atchley, a psychologist at the University of Kansas who studies driver distraction. Attending to the road is much more complex than having your head turned toward it, he said. “The technology is driven by a false assumption that seeing requires nothing more than having the eyes fixed on the right spot.”

In the YouTube video commissioned by Navdy, the driver (who owns the company that made the video), says the technology is “just like what commercial airline pilots use when they’re landing.” He adds: “You hear that? Pilots use it. It’s safe.”

“Not true,” countered Christopher Wickens, a professor at Colorado State University and one of the leading experts in the country in safe use of head­up displays for transportation. Dr. Wickens said that the head­up displays used by airplanes show only information critical to flying, like an outline of the runway or the horizon, and crucially, that information is often displayed as a visual overlay with the actual runway or horizon. By contrast, a head­up display in the car that gives nondriving information that is out of alignment with the road “is the worst of two worlds,” Dr. Wickens said. “It is clutter, contributing to potential failure and distraction contributing to potential failure.”

He said that when the information projected is related to driving and made simple — like speed or a navigation arrow — it appears from his research to provide a modest safety advantage. But the social information “counteracts, takes away” any small benefit the driver might get from driving information that is properly aligned. …

Such distraction makes it extremely difficult for a driver to respond to a sudden threat. There is another concern: Head­up technology focused on social media and communication creates the risk of normalizing the behavior of multitasking, “as if we’re telling people it’s O.K. to do it,” said Deborah Hersman, the chief executive of the National Safety Council, a nonprofit. Ms. Hersman was formerly the chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, where she was involved in the regulation of head­up displays for airlines. That technology, she said, was permitted after extensive testing on the safest practices, but, she explained, “the same isn’t true for cars.” …

Another take on the fledgling technology comes from a Vancouver, British Columbia, start­up called DD Technologies — started by two entrepreneurs who said they were inspired to build a head­up display after watching an “Iron Man” movie. The company’s display, Iris, which should soon be available in limited quantities, allows drivers to read the contents of a text. But the entrepreneurs say they’re not encouraging the behavior — well, not exactly.

“We’re not saying you should be texting and driving,” said the company’s co­founder Dino Mariutti. “We’re saying you should make it safer.”

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Comments

  1. I was a late adopter of cell phones and felt the number of times when one might be valuable didn’t justify the cost.

    I got my first cell phone during a move because there was no phone at the new place and a huge need to keep in touch with those at the old place, those scheduled to help and those actively helping. It was useful at times, but I never paid more than the minimum $10/mo to text and make the occasional short call. I worked in high tech and was rarely more than a few steps from a computer at work or home. When I was away from all the technology I felt free.

    Nobody else in my family has a driver’s license so I’m often picking up or dropping off and need to stay abreast of changes in schedule. In the old days before I had a mobile phone there were missed connections and misunderstandings. I was frequently forced to park and go searching for family members who weren’t where I expected them to be when I got there.

    Now we can update each other. To reduce the impact on my driving I often hand my phone to my wife or one of the kids if they’re travelling with me. When I’m alone I ignore incoming messages until I can find a safe moment to glance at the phone to see who it was. If it might be important I then look for a place to pull over and stop, otherwise I continue to ignore it until I reach my destination.

    That heads-up display technology looks downright dangerous to me.

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