How we drive and what we do while at the wheel could be set for considerable change over the next 20 years.

How we drive and what we do while at the wheel could be set for considerable change over the next 20 years.

How we reconcile the tasks of driving a vehicle with the desire of drivers to stay connected looks set to be at the heart of the evolving vehicle in the future. How much information does the driver really want and how far do we go before we hit problems with 'distraction'? Cat Dow considers some of the latest research which questions assumptions on drivers' social media demands.

With the increasing penetration of smartphones into the consumer sphere and a large number of accidents on the road from driver distraction, the manufacturers find themselves in something of a predicament. The assumption has been that Generation Y want all the applications they have on their smartphones, in their cars too. However, an automotive technology research firm, SBD, has carried out a series of tests and discovered that the younger generation don't really want Facebook and other social media inside their car while driving.

Speaking at Connected Cars World 2014 in Amsterdam, Alessio Ballatore, Business Development Director at SBD, said of the tests they'd done, the noticeable difference in the attitude of the generations was the question of social media accessibility. Understandably, parents were asking if there were parental controls being made available to lock away the potential distractions while their children were driving the car. To the contrary, the younger generations showed a reluctance to have Facebook and other social media platforms in the car, saying 'if they weren't in the car, then they could not be tempted to use them.'

However, as distracted driving accounts for causing some 10% of road collisions, it is becoming increasingly necessary to migrate the driver's eyes from their laps - where they are obscuring their illegal use of their smartphone - to focus fully on the road ahead. Only last month, a female driver died moments after posting a photo and status update to Facebook. The increase in these kinds of accidents can only serve to add weight to the argument against bringing social media applications into the vehicle.

App developers want more freedom from car makers, but OEMs are resolute about keeping control of which applications they let into the car, assessing them from a safety and regulatory perspective. Apps containing video and motion are everything short of banned. But this causes conflict when considering passenger entertainment, rather than solely focussing on the driver's needs.

The Connected Car Consortium has facilitated the creation of MirrorLink, an agnostic platform it hopes can be adopted by OEMs to make consumer choice easier. It seeks to maximise interoperability and certifies each app based on how interactive it is. The more distracting the application, the tighter the restrictions on when it can be used. For example, a game would receive a certification that only allows the application to be accessed when the car is completely stationary and the engine is off. This certification, coupled with voice control functionality from companies such as Nuance, will assist in giving consumers the greatest access to the apps they most regularly use, without compromising safety.

In addition, manufacturers, such as Tesla Motors, Jaguar Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz, are now working on self-learning car concepts, which recognise whether other passengers are in the vehicle. This is likely to increase demand for access to social media apps, such as Facebook, when the car is running. To this end, platforms will need to be configurable to allow different access to applications from different positions in the car.

Conclusively, manufacturers have no choice but to work towards putting Facebook and similarly distracting applications in the car. Jaguar Land Rover recently confirmed its next iteration of infotainment system will feature larger touchscreens with 'pinch and zoom' functionality, demonstrating that smartphone usability is undeniably navigating the direction of travel for the connected car. The key play will rely on the OEMs, tech experts, app developers and regulators "friend"-ing one another effectively to deliver solutions that reconcile the need for connectivity without undermining, through distraction, the act of driving the vehicle. Of course, the act of driving the vehicle is not a fixed thing either, with the possibility of more autonomous control eventually freeing up some driver time - share of mind - for other things.

It is interesting to note that some young people would prefer temptation to be completely out of harm's way. That's unlikely to happen; the industry is moving relentlessly towards offering more connectivity and information services in the car, with a focus on the Human Machine Interface (HMI) and a clear appreciation of where the pressures on the driver could be. The hope has to be that an optimal path for the driving experience can be charted through the huge technological opportunities that lay ahead.

Facebook in the car? It's perhaps better that there's a system in the car that is designed to work safely than that people are accessing FB via a smartphone on their lap...  

Expert analysis

Connected vehicle technologies - forecasts to 2034

Connected vehicle technologies - forecasts to 2034

This report from just-auto provides a comprehensive overview of the global automotive connectivity sector, major applications, top 14 markets, technology trends and market size forecasts. Use this more