A car.

The Digital Car Journal

A weblog about computers in cars
by Will Fitzgerald
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Article: INET's Conversational Interface for Vehicles. Our latest description of how conversational interfaces can be used in cars.

URL for this day Monday, April 30, 2001

Safety concerns about surfing while driving, from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Telematics: The Real Wireless Frontier (General Article). Good quote on interface:

Take the user interface issue. Already we are moving rapidly to a voice-dialing and hands-free environment in automotive wireless. Speech recognition will become the predominant mode of interaction between a driver and a wireless service or application. And rather than use an IVR-like interface (with a series of numbered prompts and branching-tree options), telematic services are going to migrate rather quickly (I predict) to become more "barge-in"-based and truly interactive. They will also become more location sensitive, with applications tying into the car's GPS systems to provide a truly context-aware interaction.

URL for this day Friday, April 27, 2001

Reducing driver distraction through Flash animations.

GM's SenseAble (driver distraction) site.

URL for this day Thursday, April 26, 2001

Another reason, perhaps, to be skeptical about satellite radio: apparently, Sirius and XM are not doing a good job of training retailers.

Here's a hired gun story that claims satellite radio sales will reach $350 million annually by 2006.

URL for this day Wednesday, April 25, 2001

Is satellite radio more like cable or more like broadcast radio? Peoplea are willing to pay for cable, but it's difficult to get people to pay for broadcast radio (listen to any public radio station during pledge week). This week's AutoTech Talk column by Paul Eisenstein discusses commercial-free satellite-to-car radio. My guess is that this will fail. Reasons: there are other options for "commercial-free" listening (CDs, tapes, books on tape, public radio); most commericials are better than popular music (ok, I'm revealing my bias here); you have to buy a special receiver before you know what you'll be getting, and you already have a regular radio. A lot will depend on the quality and consistency of the signal, I think, as well as their marketing campaigns. Eisenstein says XM Satellite Radio "expects to have 100,000 customers signed on by the end of December." This seems very unlikely to me.

Websites: XM Satellite Radio. Sirius Satellite Radio.

URL for this day Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Location-based commerce 'summit':

Presenters agreed that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) E-911 mandate, requiring new cellular handsets to possess technology to pinpoint the caller's location by October 2001, will accelerate consumer demand for location-based services.

In-car telematics fitted in 56 million vehicles by 2005. ArcGroup study -- just Ł5980 / US$10,450 / Euro 10,750 for a "Multi User Single Site Licence."

Today's use for voice portals: As an advertising medium. Probably not the best thing to do at 70 m.p.h.

URL for this day Monday, April 23, 2001

Note: the argument below, I've been shown, is faulty even if Lamport's fomula is correct (for which I have no proof). Buridan's Principle only takes into account the decision time, not the whole of the reaction time. Unless I could show a (continous) effect on decision time, Buridan's Principle doesn't apply. Why don't they teach logic at these schools? --CS Lewis

I've been thinking about the implications of Buridan's Principle, formulated by Leslie Lamport, for driver safety and driver distraction. The principle is:

A discrete decision based upon an input having a continous range of values cannot be made within a bounded length of time.

In a note, Lamport claims that one can estimate the probability of a failure to make a binary decision, given a time to make the decision, and the average reaction time. The formula he gives is e^(-T/R), where T is time to make the decision, and R is reaction time.

We can use this formula to estimate how quick a reaction time one needs in order to make a decision with a given time at a given probability. This formula is R=-T/ln P, with P being the probability.

According to this Canada Department of Transportation article, average reaction time to move from the gas pedal to the brakes is .75 seconds.

Using these numbers, I created this spreadsheet [removed--see above]. It indicates, for example, that under normal human reaction times, there will be a "bad decision" (perhaps resulting in an accident) around 1 in a 1000 times if a driver has 5 seconds to respond. Increase this just to 1 second, and it will be 1 in a 100.

Is this right? Let me know.

URL for this day Friday, April 20, 2001

Red Herring article on GM's telematics offerings:

GM's best use of telematics could be as a way of getting new drivers into its cars during the years that it still has the lead -- and getting them out of BMWs, Hondas, and Toyotas. GM would be shortsighted to depend on telematics services for its survival, let alone a primary means of growth. That's not to say OnStar or GM's other Internet commerce initiatives won't add to the top or bottom lines. Or even generate nice profit margins, possibly as high as 25 to 30 percent. But recurring revenue streams and incremental additions to overall net income will do little to change how GM is perceived in the hearts and minds of those on Wall Street.

Webraska opens Detroit office.

Fonix, one of the main names in voice recognition technology, just invested $3 million in a VoiceXML company, Audium Corporation.

URL for this day Thursday, April 19, 2001

2002 Infiniti Q45's voice recognition, made by Visteon. Claims 50,000 word vocabulary and to understand 150 US Dialects. Controls audio, climate control and navigation. (Gee, only $1,000 a month for 60 months and it's mine!)

Motorola merges its automotive and telematics groups.

URL for this day Wednesday, April 18, 2001

An acquaintance, Paul Hanna of the Industrial Development Board of Northern Ireland, sent me the following links concerning UK and European Union policies regarding the use of mobile phones in cars:

URL for this day Tuesday, April 17, 2001

CommWeb did a useful review of VoiceXML portals. One can imagine using VoiceXML to build an information service accessible via cell phone.

"CT Labs used the VoiceXML Forum's spec, and reports that the test engineer found the concept and structure of the language fairly easy to use. They note that although they mapped out what they considered a simple six-page script, it took their engineer a week to learn and code the app to VoiceXML standards. Therefore, for someone creating a real-world app, with a live database behind it and more complex functions, the amount of time would be greater."

A week doesn't seem that long to me. One problem the testers ran into was that the various vendors required different scripts, despite all of them use the VoiceXML "standard."

URL for this day Monday, April 16, 2001

Another telematics overview article, this time from The Standard:

"We're going on some tremendously volatile assumptions now," says Andy Boyd, a Honda spokesman. "I think for the manufacturers it presents a tremendous challenge."

Update on cell phone ban legislation:

Lawmakers, as of Monday, shot down 30 of the 89 bills that aimed at banning cellular phone use while driving. The bills involved 15 states, and with actions taken by state legislators, there is no state with laws in place to stop people from talking on the phone while operating a vehicle. Pending, however, are 51 other bills that are attempting to do the same.

URL for this day Thursday, April 12, 2001

We'll not be publishing tomorrow (Good Friday).

Intel enters the telematics market (Intel press release. Yahoo press release):

[Intel will partner with] Microsoft, QNX Software Systems, Wind River Systems, IBM, Fonix and Lernout & Hauspie to commercialize in-car computers.

Intel's telematics site.

Delphi Electronics' Communiport MPCpro website, including (eventually) the owner's manual.

MPCpro concession to safety (from the FAQ:

Why doesn't my Palm V/Vx screen stay active when I use it with the MPCpro?-- It would be tempting to glance down at an active screen. Keeping the Palm V/Vx screen inactive helps you keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel - it also reduces the Palm's power consumption.
Can anyone in the vehicle use the MPCpro?-- The MPCpro is designed to be used by the driver. Never let a passenger sit directly in front of the device, as it could cause severe injury in the event of an accident. Always install the MPCpro according to the instructions in the owner's manual.

On the other hand:

Can I use a headset with MPCpro instead of using the sound system?-- Yes, but make sure it's legal to do so where you drive. A few states have made it unlawful to use headsets while driving. (The MPCpro broadcasts its text-to-speech to the car's radio.)

Further, there's nothing about the potential dangers of listening to email or talking on the cell phone while driving.

(Picture of the MPCpro command set from the SAE conference in March).

URL for this day Wednesday, April 11, 2001

More on companies that create noise cancellation technology for in-vehicle microphones.

Clarity is a company located in Troy, Michigan. According to their website:

Clarity develops proprietary software products for the rapidly expanding Voice Interface industry, enabling effective voice commands and communications in noisy environments. Voice activated instructions represent the ultimate user-friendly man-machine interface. Clarity's patent pending "Clear Voice Capture™" ("CVC™") technology "humanizes" the way people communicate with computers and other electronic devices. With this enabling voice technology, a number of functions (currently performed by typing on a keyboard or pushing touch type controls) in the office, car, industrial and home environments can be done via voice commands. Clarity's CVC technology improves the quality of the voice signal to enable the performance of speech recognition software and enhance transmission functions. Additionally, by reducing the levels of digitized noise over telecommunications systems, bandwidth is optimized.

LocalBusiness.com has written a couple of articles about Clarity, including this backgrounder about the company:

Clarity's technology was originally designed by Fathi Salam and Gail Erten of Okemos, Mich., in 1993, as a commercial spinoff of software used by the U.S. Air Force. At that time, Erten obtained a $1.3 million Small Business and Research (SBIR) Grant from the U.S. Dept. of Defense to package the technology for commercial use. Clarity was founded in 1998 to commercialize the technology. It received $1.95 million in two rounds of funding from angel investors and $2.5 million in its first round of venture capital in June.

A related company, IC Tech (Gail Erten is IC Tech's president as well as Clarity's CTO and co-founder), has several articles about "voice extraction technology."

URL for this day Tuesday, April 10, 2001

Speech Technology Magazine has a cover story on voice applications in vehicles. There's a side story on noise cancellation technology for in-vehicle use.

EETimes.com article from December, 2000: Automakers struggle with speech recognition technology. Quote:

The in-car PC boom that was supposed to be in full swing by now hasn't happened, and it may be delayed another 12 to 18 months as automakers and vendors run up against hurdles in implementing speech recognition systems.

URL for this day Monday, April 9, 2001


MobileAria is creating an open service platform for delivering wireless content and applications uniquely integrated for the in-vehicle environment. MobileAria services will be delivered through a hands-free, voice-activated interface that will enable the user to manage their time and information simply in a non-distracting manner. Investors include Delphi Automotive Systems (NYSE: DPH), Palm, Inc. (Nasdaq: PALM) and Mayfield Fund. MobileAria is based in Silicon Valley.

The MobileAria website. FAQ. News. Micheal Orr announced as CEO (March 12), Daniel Zucker as VP of Engineering (February 26). Orr was President and COO of Tarantella, an SCO-spinoff; Zucker is a Standford CS Ph.D. who's done a lot of work on the Palm. Launch annoucement (October, 2000).

URL for this day Friday, April 6, 2001

What effect will GM's new disposable car have on telematics? (OK, this reference should have been posted April 1.)

URL for this day Thursday, April 5, 2001

Visteon to cut 1,800 jobs, take $135 million charge

Will telematics drive the industry to distraction?

URL for this day Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Here's an interesting study on driver distraction: Effects of Verbal and Spatial—Imagery Tasks on Eye Fixations While Driving. It's fairly technical, but it compares how a simple verbal task (coming up with words that start with a certain letter) and a simple spatial imagery task (imagining the rotation of letters and whether the letters are 'closed' (like '6') or 'open' (like '3') and how 'no task' effect several measurements of driver distraction on real roads.

My general take-away: in general, spatial imaging is more distracting than a verbal task, which is more distracting than driving alone.

An interesting anomaly in this chart, which shows how often drivers looked at the interior mirror, left-hand mirror and speedometer by task type. In some cases, the verbal task correlated with more looks at the left-hand mirror than no task. It also seems to show that drivers choose what to pay attention to under different conditions: note that no or little attention to the speedometer unless the drivers are engaged in no other task; similarly with attention to the interior mirror (although this differs by road type).

Does this mean that a conversational interface would be less distracting than interacting with visual displays beside the steering wheel? The answer is complex, and this study indicates that there are many variables to consider, but I think it lends some weight to the argument, especially if the interface responds differently under different driving conditions (i.e., it might not engage in dialog if the driver is decelerating rapidly, for example).

Interesting: Truck is stolen. Telematics tracking system is activated. Truck is recovered. In twenty minutes.

URL for this day Tuesday, April 3, 2001

Code Alarm has created a new telematics affiliate, Code Technologies (press release), with Code Alarm founder Rand W. Mueller as head.

"Click and Clack, the Tappit Brothers" are on a mission to stop in-vehicle cell phone and telematics use.

National, State-by-state, international and local rundown of legislative action to restrict in-vehicle cell phone and telematics use.

Nextel Introduces Java-Enabled Wireless Phone. By putting Java in the phone, it may allow for greater flexibility for how the phone interacts with devices in a car.

Andrea Technologies is claiming a patent on its microphone array technology.

URL for this day Monday, April 2, 2001

Wireless Hears Call of Voice Recognition Software.

All these devices (and) there's one clear problem: There's no room for a keyboard in them.

Motorola's IRadio overview: a server-based telematics solution.

IBM's pervasive computing website. Search for "telematics" at IBM.

Don't Forget To Plan For Access In Cars. General telematics/mobile-commerce article in Internet Week.

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