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We live in a connected world where it’s become natural to juggle multiple tasks at any given time. Multi-tasking while driving is no different. Whether sending text messages or making an urgent phone call, small tasks might not seem like such a bad idea, but even the smallest of distractions on the road can be a matter of life or death.  Consider that drivers who use mobile phones while behind the wheel are approximately four times more likely to be involved in a crash than those who do not. Distraction is more than a threat to drivers – it is a                                                                                                 threat to everyone on the road.
Common driving distractions are visual, auditory and manual, causing inattention, cognitive overload and potential loss of control.  Examples include texting, intense conversations and eating or drinking.  Fatigue is also a significant contributor to distraction.  In other words, we are our own worst enemies when we drive, and try to do too many other things.  Still, a great deal of responsibility falls on the automakers’ shoulders to design vehicles that provide consumers with the connected features they desire in a way that minimizes driver distraction.
We’re now entering the next generation of driving with self-learning and eventually, autonomous vehicles. In the next five years the market for cars that assist drivers is estimated to increase nearly 50 times from $2.4 billion in 2015. The U.S. Department of Transportation recently mandated that automatic emergency braking must be standard on most cars by 2022, in just one sign of this upsurge.  Self-learning cars are beginning to employ advanced machine learning techniques to understand the driver’s behavior and preferences, which should minimize driver distraction. Cars will behave something like a human personal assistant.
Advancing driver-assist technologies and autonomous vehicles is a topic that I discuss in meetings with customers like Maserati, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, as well as with partners like Microsoft, Google and Apple.
By investing in self-learning cars, we can achieve new levels of predictive and intuitive driving for a safer experience on the road. Here’s a look at a few innovations in the market already, or coming soon, to help make driving safer:

  • The latest infotainment systems can use past behavior to help predict a driver’s destination and route when they enter the vehicle, and proactively inform him or her of estimated travel time and traffic. These systems can also delay phone calls and other alerts when sensing the driver is in a complex maneuver.  After observing driving patterns, the system can detect when patterns deviate from the norm and alert the driver.
  • Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) available today and connected to cloud systems can analyze data in real time from sensors on an individual vehicle and relate them to further data from thousands of other vehicles, helping distribute information such as weather conditions and accidents.
  • Fifty-two percent of drivers desire a car that identifies traffic signals, congestion and accidents. Good news for drivers: these capabilities and services are available today. Advanced embedded navigation solutions blend live video on car displays with augmented reality annotations such as street names, traffic signals and parking structures, helping drivers make decisions better and sooner.
A rendering of Harman’s advanced embedded navigation, which blends live video with augmented reality to call landmarks and driving conditions to a driver’s attention.
  • By aggregating information from a range of existing technologies fitted to the car, including a rear camera and 360 sensors, pedestrians can be better detected. Reverse Pedestrian Detection successfully identifies smaller children who are most vulnerable to being hit, helping eliminate the blind spots that kill or injure 15,000 pedestrians a year in the US alone.
  • By extracting meeting information from the driver’s calendar, today’s self-learning systems can trigger an “auto notification” to meeting attendees if it finds that the driver will be delayed for the meeting based on the estimated time to his or her destination.
  • Collecting vehicle environmental data, and recording driver responses to situations where an autonomous vehicle action seemed inappropriate, allows for advanced analytics to determine the cause of the inappropriate behaviour. A fix can then be developed and downloaded to the vehicle through a secure over the air (SOTA) update. This will insure that self-driving cars help us in the ways we most need.

Connected car technology has the potential to change driving as we know it – and ensure a safer experience for everyone.  The automotive and technology industries, with the public sector, are working to overcome technical and data challenges that might otherwise delay adoption.  In addition, oversight is central in connected car technology discussions to ensure advancements for safety do not compromise drivers’ security and privacy.  Once these technical issues are addressed, a self-learning car can truly become an intelligent personal assistant or virtual co-passenger to ensure the connected driving experience is personalized and– above all – safe.
Bill Shogren is the Senior Director for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems at HARMAN.