Evidence is piling up attesting to the fact that hands-free devices don’t eliminate the driver distraction from making phone calls or sending text messages that cause car crashes. But anything that helps lower the cognitive demand on the driver that comes from electronic gadgets should surely help.
To that end, RISE Devices, a San Ramon, Calif., startup, is planning to introduce an in-car messaging system, simply called DRIVE, that delivers information only when the driver has both hands on the steering wheel. The device, whose base has magnets that firmly attach it to the steering column, emits a pair of pulsing infrared beams aimed at the “10 and 2” hand positions that driving instructors recommend. The driver controls the gadget by extending the fingers on either hand and interrupting the beam.
Doing things this way, says Ronald Isaac, DRIVE’s creator, eliminates controls such as a display screen or buttons that draw away the driver’s visual focus. It also does away with attention-hogging voice commands so drivers no longer have to rack their brains to figure out just the right phrase and just the right intonation that will get a voice recognition system to follow a simple command.
Opening and closing the grip on the steering wheel lets the driver choose what messages DRIVE reads aloud, when its three microphones should record a message, and to whom a particular message should be sent.
“We’re so plugged in to our phones that it’s almost impossible to convince people to ignore calls, texts, and social updates while they drive,”said Isaac in a press release. “DRIVE removes the danger of distraction, making texts and notifications as seamless as listening to the radio.”
The group that developed the messaging system, which, at first glance, looks like a bedside alarm clock, is proud of the gadget’s sound quality—especially for the recordings of the driver that subsequently become outgoing messages. The recording system, they note, was designed by a former Apple engineer who helped improve Siri’s acoustics. The multiple microphones and engineering tricks he and his colleagues brought to bear have resulted in clear sound with minimal road noise.
(Eliminating road noise inside the car is a difficult problem. Acoustics firm, Harman, recently revealed what it says is the first active noise cancellation system for road noise.)
DRIVE is currently the subject of a Kickstarter campaign; the gadget’s creators hope to raise US $88,000 by the end of November. Donors of $149 or more can expect to receive a unit (or several, depending on the pledge) by July 2015. The system, which is compatible with iOS, Android, Windows devices, comes with an app that automatically syncs all messaging and social media apps for seamless communication.