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Car companies catch up to a connected world

Molly Wood Oct 29, 2014
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Car companies catch up to a connected world

Molly Wood Oct 29, 2014
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Car companies have been slow to adapt to a connected world. But they’re starting to catch up, putting out cars that increasingly work like huge smartphones on wheels. 

Qualcomm is a company built on smartphone chips. But lately, they’ve also been trying to get their chips inside cars.

“Fundamentally, the car is turning into a smartphone,” says Qualcomm’s senior vice president of business development Kanwalinder Singh. He’s speaking from the passenger seat of an Audi A3, the first car with its own 4G connection. 

With the help of Qualcomm chips, the A3 features more detailed Google maps, internet radio, and Netflix streaming for the kids in the backseat. Drivers can dictate Tweets using voice command, and the car reads incoming text messages out loud. 

Singh says Qualcomm is giving drivers the features they want, and they’re doing it in a safe way.

“We believe that driver distraction would actually be alleviated by providing these services,” he says. “When all of this is embedded, like it is in this Audi, phone calls destined to you and your smartphone would actually come through the car’s antenna, and play through the car’s audio-visual system. You would interact through the car.”

But some driving safety researchers say moving these features from the phone to the car won’t make drivers any safer.

“I think they’re really ignoring the powerful effect of cognitive distractions,” says Linda Hill, who leads a team of driving safety researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. 

Hill admits voice command might cut down on visual distraction, preventing phone-handling drivers from staring down into their laps. But eye-tracking studies have shown that even when drivers have their hands free and their eyes on the road, their minds can still be elsewhere.

A recent study looking at that found that voice-to-text increased driving errors more on a closed driving course than text-to-text did, shockingly,” Hill says.

Hill does like the idea of building one bit of technology into cars, though: An app that disables phones in moving vehicles. 

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