Telematics Update: Driver distraction a concern

Driver distraction remains a potential barrier to the introduction of new infotainment features in the car, several industry executives said Wednesday.

“Distraction is a factor,” said Mike Sena, vice president European development at Hughes Telematics. Added Andy Knotts, ITS senior manager at Japanese supplier Denso: “Driver distraction is one of the biggest challenges we have in bringing content into the car”

The two executives were speaking at the Telematics Update conference in Munich, where the focus was on how and when new data features would be available in the car.

Many speakers on the first day of the two-day conference were upbeat about the potential of new cooperations between automakers, telephone operators, consumer-electronics companies and mobile service providers.

“There’s huge innovation going on in the whole telematics area,” said Susan Heystee, executive vice president worldwide sales at US location-based services provider Telogis.

Added Floris van de Klashorst: “Electric vehicles are the Walhalla for services.”  Van de Klashorst, who heads Nokia’s automotive operations, cited smart keys, new charging possibilities and car sharing as just a few of the new business opportunities arising.

And summing up the optimism, Google’s manager engineering and product, Markus Muehlbauer, said: “I do expect that my car will become as smart as my phone.”

But executives also warned that many obstacles remain. One issue that came up several times in discussions was the absence of full mobile network coverage everywhere. This can mean that vital emergency services are not always available and that telematics would function less reliably than consumers expect.

“There’s an issue with who’s responsible when I’m not connected,” said Marcus Heitmann, head of automotive r&d at Deutsche Telekom Laboratories.

Another worry for many industry players is the European Union’s eCall emergency assistance program. eCall is supposed to be implemented by 2014, but automakers and suppliers appeared unsure about the status of the project. “The EU’s eCall approach is a major source of grief to the auto industry,” said Hughes’ Sena.

EU and national legislation could also pose problems for the ambitious plans of infotainment service providers. In the Netherlands, police has recently issued more tickets to distracted drivers. And in the UK, press reports have also started paying more attention to the dangers of driving while talking on the phone.


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