Why we care about wearables6 minutes
Drive down any highway and you’ll invariably see the following message on a road sign or bumper sticker: “Put the phone down and drive.” We’ve previously established the very real dangers of distracted driving – but, as with so many things, technology has progressed and the conversation is still catching up.
Even though the focus of the distracted driving conversation has been on texting, research indicates smartwatches may be even more dangerous. This is because of the higher glance time required for the small display. Research carried out by the Transport Research Laboratory in Wokingham, UK, found a driver reading a message on a smart watch takes 2.52 seconds to react to an emergency. Comparatively, drivers using a handheld phone took 1.85 seconds to respond.
Growing popularity of wearables
As wearable devices become more prevalent, they will have to become a larger part of the distracted driving conversation. According to International Data Corporation (IDC), over 307 million wearable devices have been sold to date – and sales are projected to continue climbing for the foreseeable future.
The National Security Council advises drivers to leave their smartwatches home or remove them while driving. Still, awareness surrounding distracted driving due to wearable devices is still extremely low, and people continue to wear them while driving despite the potential dangers.
Most wearable devices provide haptic feedback/vibration on the wrist to alert the user of notifications, which makes them difficult to ignore. Additionally, the wrist placement of wearable devices such as activity trackers and smart watches is in the proximity to the driver's line of sight while operating a vehicle. Finally, a smart watch with touch screen display requires two hands to operate – one hand in which the watch is worn, and the other hand to touch the screen.
The connectivity consumers expect
Connectivity is important, and users desire access to their devices via while driving. Even though distracted driving is a proven risk, people continue to look for connectivity options through their smartphones and even wearable devices despite some level of enforced restrictions – though there are no US laws that specifically apply to wearable devices.
On an average, Americans drive roughly 30 miles every day. During this time, they don’t want to be disconnected from family, entertainment or even work. Many drivers take work-related calls or catch up with their families during their daily commute.
Even though safety is important to drivers, user convenience cannot be ignored. A safety-focused yet seamless data exchange catering towards connectedness and comfort is essential. Vehicle manufacturers and suppliers are striving to deliver connectivity as a part of the consumers’ automotive infotainment experience.
Technology providing the solution
There are potential technological solutions available that could bring the needed change in our vehicles to address user needs without compromising safety or comfort. For instance, Panasonic’s patented steering wheel switches provide connectivity to wearable devices and are smart enough to identify – and connect to – the wearable device in the driver’s hand based on proximity. The switches also can gather the vehicle speed from the Instrument Cluster unit. Once a potential driver distraction scenario is confirmed, the steering wheel switch could request the wearable device to disable notifications to avoid driver distraction.
Even though the aim is to prevent distractions, user communication needs are still addressed with this solution. Drivers can accept and reject calls using the steering wheel switch as well as listen to text messages or voicemails via the infotainment unit. Repeated calls from the same numbers are considered an emergency and will override the notification disabiling. The connecting and disabling of the device happens behind the scenes and doesn’t require the user to repeatedly pair their device.
Where certain “Do Not Disturb” options can prevent people from using their phones while in a moving vehicle, this solution is unable to pinpoint the position of a user in the car. A passenger may disable this feature and not implement it when they are driving. Wearable connectivity, on the other hand, could help in identifying a car occupant in a specific seat position. This is achieved based on proximity check with short-range communication between vehicle electronic units and wearable devices used by drivers/passengers inside the car.
This connectivity, with its greater capacity for identification, has the potential to improve the customer experience by increasing customization. Once Identification is complete, factors such as seat height, recline level, media preferences and desired temperature can all be implemented to the customer’s satisfaction. These settings could be stored in the vehicle e-cockpit memory for each particular user and reapplied whenever that user uses the vehicle. This also helps in individual customization for each of the passengers, which would be especially helpful in ride sharing or an autonomous driving vehicle where everyone gets their own personal customizable zone.
The switch communicates to instrument cluster via CAN, LIN or any other vehicle communication protocol to get the vehicle speed. Once a distraction possibility is confirmed based on wearable device in the driver’s hand and vehicle speed, the steering wheel switch can request to disable notifications in the wearable device. Panasonic’s patented technology enables wireless communication devices in the vehicle to communicate with wearable devices for data exchange using short-range communication protocol such as Near Field Communication (NFC) or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).
Other safety features
Aside from removing distractions, the technology has the potential to increase safety in other ways. Most wearable devices, for instance, check the user’s heart rate to monitor their health. When the detected heart rate of the user is abnormal, the wearable device could communicate to the vehicle E-Cockpit systems, and the vehicle could turn on hazard lights, make an emergency call using the infotainment unit, drive to hospital in autonomous mode, inform relatives or simply park the vehicle.
The good alert
Alerts can be distracting, but they can also serve a purpose. A drowsy driver or a driver who is engaged in talking with a co-passenger probably needs to be alerted. The distracted driver may need to slow down to not hit on a vehicle in front of theirs or change lanes to reach the desired destination. The haptic vibration alerts of wearables could be used to the advantage of distracted drivers when most needed.
Raising awareness of wearables
The popularity and adoption of wearable devices is drastically increasing, but small screen real estate and impulsive haptic alerts makes these devices more distracting than phones while driving. Still, awareness of this issue is extremely low, and people have a desire to stay connected while driving. Technology solutions such as Panasonic’s Wearable connectivity can automatically reduce distractions from wearable devices, balancing networking and safety while addressing the technological disruption presented by wearable tech.