Apple uses an ever-expanding dashboard touchscreen

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At Daniel McGee an informed opinion, it’s just too late to put the genie back in the bottle. People drive an average of 29 miles a day in the US. They have phones. They will want to use their phones while driving. The question is, how can they do it safely without being distracted by distracting devices in their pockets?

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For more than a decade, automakers have responded by equipping their vehicles with extensive and sometimes complex infotainment systems presented on giant touchscreens that stretch across dashboards – in the case of one Mercedes-Benz model, over 4.5 feet through. While their use while driving is “not necessarily optimal,” says McGehee, director of the National Driving Simulator at the University of Iowa, it’s probably better than people pecking at tiny widgets on a cell phone screen while driving.

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As these manufacturers have historically struggled to create functional software, tech giants like Apple and Google have come up with their own in-car integrations, CarPlay and Android Auto. Thus, McGehee believes that this principle is likely to apply to Apple’s recently announced next generation CarPlayinfotainment escalation that penetrate the entire dashboard. There will be widgets. There will be a choice of the location of the instrument cluster. Instead of just duplicating an iPhone, CarPlay will allow drivers to change radio stations as well as display vehicle data such as fuel level and speed. The company says it will begin announcing partnerships with automakers later next year.

The expansion of in-car infotainment systems has generated an understandable backlash. For years, safety advocates and researchers have warned that systems developed by both automakers and technology companies can’t keep drivers focused on the road. “The state of infotainment systems is such that the driver has too many things at hand,” says David Strayer, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Utah who studies how the brain multi-tasks. “They create a garden of distraction for the driver.”

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But it’s also hard to determine how much technology like phones and in-car infotainment systems contribute to unsafe driving. More than 3,000 people died in distraction-related crashes in 2020, accounting for 8.1 percent of total fatalities that year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Young drivers more likely be injured or killed in distraction accidents. But the data on the causes of crashes in general are “pretty approximate,” says William Horrie, technical director of the AAA Highway Safety Foundation.

Reporting from the scene, which is a sure distraction, tends to focus on cell phones rather than car systems. And since many automakers use different infotainment systems with different menus, font sizes, and button layouts, even in studies where participants’ cars are connected to sensors and cameras, there are problems collecting enough data to come to any firm conclusions. about how often distraction leads to injury or death.

However, researchers generally agree on some of the biggest design violations: requiring drivers to scroll or navigate long menus. Screen font not large enough, so drivers have to spend more time looking. The design of buttons that are too small, especially those that are not close to the wheel. (The farther the button, the larger the target should be.) Allowing cars to update dashboards on their own, leaving drivers lost on their next trip.

There are also best practices, Regards National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA recommends that no visual or manual work in a vehicle take more than two seconds because looking away from the roadway for longer than a six second period substantially increases the likelihood of an unsafe event such as an accident. But when Strayer and a team of neuroscientists studied 40 infotainment systems Available in 2017 and 2018, they found that connecting a destination to a navigation system, for example, could take the driver off the road for up to 40 seconds. (While many automotive systems do not allow drivers to enter destinations while the vehicle is in motion, 40% of the systems studied by the team did.)

The study concluded that many infotainment features were simply too distracting while the car was in motion. Even though Google’s CarPlay and Android Auto required fewer drivers than other systemsresearchers found they still require too much. Five years is an era in automotive technology, and since then, many of these systems have been updated. But because design guidelines are guidelines, not rules, they haven’t necessarily been updated for the better.

What’s worse, Strayer says, is that people tend to be pretty bad at multitasking, whether it’s driving and putting a destination in a navigation app or filling out a spreadsheet while watching Netflix. The 2.5 percent of people who can multi-task well tend to end up in fighter jet cockpits, while the rest of us “think they can, but they do it very badly,” he says.

Particularly unfortunate is that the parts of the brain that are important for driving are the same parts of the brain that drivers use to navigate, whether it’s the road or the options menu in a car. “The same neurons are trying to do two things at the same time, and they are fighting,” Strayer says. Even driving and using voice functions like sending text messages or entering destinations can be risky because people usually look at what they are doing and try to check what they have entered to make sure it is correct. The action also increases the cognitive load on the driver. In other words, simply talking (or fiddling) with a voice assistant takes up valuable brain space that is better spent driving.

Apple did not answer questions about the next generation of CarPlay or provide details on how it will work. But the image released by the company shows detailed weather information, a calendar view, and whether the garage door is closed on the dashboard. McGehee, an engineering professor, says such details can be distracting. “You want to minimize information while driving and limit it to important things,” he says.

Regardless of how CarPlay arrives, it’s safe to say that touchscreens will remain and knobs and switches will soon disappear. But they “have a special responsibility” to technical developers, says McGehee. “You have to do rigorous driving testing and complex simulations so you can understand the limits of human vision and cognition.” Maybe it’s cynical, maybe it’s realistic: the world is a distracting place – how can we make it as safe as possible?

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