Safety Campaigners Call for AI Enhanced Voice Controls

Research showing that infotainment touchscreen can reduce driver response time more than being drunk has brought calls for greater use of voice control.

Following a study run by the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), IAM Roadsmart, FIA Road Safety and the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund, researchers found a detrimental impact of in-vehicle infotainment systems such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay on driver response times. The evidence suggest that driver distraction levels are much higher when using touch screen technologies compared to voice activated systems.

However, TRL says further research is necessary to steer the use of spoken instructions as the safest method for future in-car control. It asserts that with driver distraction estimated to be a factor in up to 30% of vehicle collisions across Europe, the improved safety of in-vehicle infotainment systems is vital.

In a statement the safety research organization said this call for voice-activated systems is supported by the development of conversational artificial intelligence (AI) which enables speech interfaces to operate at a complex level. It says that currently, voice control systems only understand a set of key commands while applying conversational AI could widen its capabilities to include all forms of dialogue to enable a versatile, natural interaction.

Dr Neale Kinnear, head of behavioral science at TRL, explains: “The results of this study clearly show that touch control infotainment systems are highly distracting to drivers, far more so than voice activated systems. However, even current voice control systems increase drivers’ reaction times and remains a concern for road safety. This is why TRL is recommending that we put our efforts into developing a framework for testing and improving the human factors of such systems. This includes improving voice activation as a method of control, as this has the opportunity to greatly reduce the workload on a driver thanks to innovations being made in conversational Artificial Intelligence. TRL would like to see safety standards improved around infotainment systems, not just by their definition, but also through the harmonization of standards across the entire transport sector.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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