Smartphones aren’t all that’s mobile in technology today. These days your car is a computer on wheels. The next stop is making the automobile the “ultimate mobile device,” as a Gartner analyst said at a news conference unveiling a partnership between Microsoft and Toyota that would bring cars into the world of cloud computing.
The venture into the cloud, where data and applications are hosted remotely, is the next step in telematics, the technology that has brought voice-controlled mobile phone and navigation systems to automobiles. Well known telematics systems include GM’s OnStar and Ford’s Sync.
In their venture, Microsoft and Toyota aim to give buyers of new Toyota electric or plug-in hybrids the ability to control and monitor their auto systems from anywhere. Owners would, for instance, be able to turn on the heat or air conditioning while their vehicle is plugged into the grid or use a smartphone to check battery power or maintenance information remotely. Electric cars could be directed to charge at times when power usage and costs are lower.
Microsoft’s partnership with Toyota builds on its development with Ford of the Sync system that lets drivers manage everything from the climate control to the radio and GPS by voice control, to compose text messages by voice or have incoming ones read by the computer. Automakers are also building in the capability to access the Internet while on the road with mobile Wi-Fi hotspots.
At the same time that technology is enabling us to do more things while we’re driving, it’s also providing ways to keep us focused on the road ahead or to intervene when we don’t react.
Volvo, for instance, has introduced a system that uses a camera and radar sensor to apply the brakes if the driver fails to when it detects a pedestrian. The Lexus pre-collision system uses radar to determine if a collision may be likely, then preps the brakes and tightens the seatbelt. Lexus also offers a driver attention monitor that uses an infrared monitor to determine if you’re looking at the road ahead. The system warns you if it detects a potential collision and may even tap the brakes.
People who aren’t in the market for a new car but want to remain connected on the road have a variety of options that will let them talk and text while keeping their hands and eyes on the road ahead.
The Dial2Do service works with your smartphone so you can listen to email and respond by voice, send text messages, listen to your calendar, leave yourself reminders, post tweets to twitter, and hear the weather and The New York Times news feed.
The DriveSafe.ly smartphone application reads text and emails out loud, hands free. There are also tools to block texts and calls while you, or your teen, are driving.
IZup holds text messages, emails and calls while you drive but allows access to 911 and authorized phone numbers. The system uses a cell phone’s GPS signal to calculate how fast the phone is moving, and when it hits a certain speed, it holds the calls and texts.
Txtblocker blocks texting while driving and enables the phone’s owner, i.e. parents, to locate phones and set up no cell zones to limit distractions in school or at the workplace. The system will also send alerts if a phone is being taken outside a no-cell zone, for instance if your teen is cutting school, as well as speed alerts that tell you how fast the car is being driven. It also provides a 30-day history of the phone’s location.
Textecution kills texting while driving. If a user removes Textecution from a cell phone, it notifies the parents by text.
For a hard-wired approach, the Protector safe driver system by the maker of Taser stun guns, combines hardware installed on the vehicle with software on a cell phone to lock smartphones while the car is running and the phone is inside.
While parents may be comforted by text- and phone-blocking programs, they should realize that teens are creative when it comes to getting around parental controls.
As a friend’s teenaged son said, “Mom, there’s a way around everything.”
Tools to Keep Eyes on the road and Hands on the Wheel
- Dial2Do www.dial2do.com, $25-$60 per year
- iZup www.getizup.com, $20 per year for single user, $60 for family
- Drivesafe.ly www.drivesafe.ly, $14 for single user, $35 for family
- Txtblocker http://txtblocker.com and Best Buy. $70 per year via the site
- Textecution www.textecution.com, $30 for Android phones
- Protector safe driver system http://store.protector.com, $250 plus $100 for 12 months of service