Weekly Brief: Socializing the driving experience

Weekly Brief: Socializing the driving experience

In this week’s Brief: U.S. Department of Transportation, Google, Volkswagen, Panasonic, Navitel, Continental, Cisco, HIMEX, Sprint, AT&T and Werner Herzog.

“A car is not a mobile device, it’s a car,” said David Strickland of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) at Telematics Detroit two years ago. Strickland had just sat through two days’ worth of presentations about the wonders of in-vehicle connectivity without hearing much about risks or distractions. Driving, he added, is not a game. It’s a serious task that requires all of the driver’s concentration. “Distractions due to technology,” he said, “cost thousands of lives each year on the road.”

And yet the mobilization and socialization of the vehicle has continued, with or without Strickland’s or the DoT’s blessing.

Last week, Google and Volkswagen teamed up to launch a new smartphone app that aims to turn every journey on wheels into a social activity. Dubbed “SmileDrive,” the app is linked to the user’s Google+ account, and friends can be invited to follow trips online, commenting on photos and posts along the way.

At the end of a trip, the app compiles a video recap of the journey that can be stored or shared with friends. Drivers also receive “Smile Scores” calculated by how far they’ve driven, where and under what conditions, among other factors.

“A lot of time is spent in the car today, whether it is for the daily commute to work or setting off with friends and family on a weekend camping trip,” says Kevin Mayer, vice president of marketing at Volkswagen of America. “We wanted to provide a way for consumers to add a little more flare to their road trips and a way to share the good times in their VWs with their friends.”

VW assures that drivers who use the app won’t need to be actively involved with the social documenting and Smile Scoring while en route, although it’s easy to picture David Strickland wincing at that.

In a similar vein, Panasonic introduced a new portable navigation device called “Gorilla Eye.” The idea behind the after-market device is to get the driver from point A to B quickly and efficiently while capturing parts of that route via the Gorilla’s eye, a video camera mounted to the backside of the device.

The system allows drivers to save videos directly to a memory card that can be plugged into a computer, then stored or shared however one would like. The device will be available in Japan in December.

Navitel, meanwhile, released a new version of its Navitel Navigator for BlackBerry. That’s, in case you’re counting to the decimal point. The most notable feature is an interactive service called “Navitel.Friends” that allows users to see the location of their friends on the map in real time. They can also chat or make a route to meet them. Other features include Navitel.Events (events or incidents recorded by other users in the area) and Navitel.Weather (a three-day forecast for any place in the world).

In other news, Continental announced that it will unveil a number of innovative human-machine-interface (HMI) concepts at the upcoming Frankfurt Motor Show in September.

In one concept, the instrument cluster becomes a blank digital canvas onto which drivers can load round dials, spatial assistants for parking, fuel tank gauges and other images, all on the same screen at the same time. In another, the traditional flat screen of the HMI becomes a convex glass screen that follows the contours of the dash.

A third introduces a head-up display technology that can be integrated with augmented reality that projects information directly onto the windshield and, by extension, the road. No word when these concepts will transition from teasers to reality.

Staying with Continental, the company partnered with Cisco to develop a proof-of-concept for a connected car that moves from one wireless network to the next, providing steady network connectivity as a result.

Cisco seems to be doing the heavier lifting behind the concept as it’s Cisco’s on-board software solution that allows the switching between 3G and 4G networks, based on the needs of drivers and passengers at any given moment. The companies say that, building on this proof, they plan to pursue tangible solutions for continuous car connectivity in the future.

On the usage-based-insurance (UBI) front, HIMEX announced that Sprint will provide the wireless connectivity for HIMEX’s UBI 3D platform for the coming five years. HIMEX touts itself as a complete UBI solution provider (hence the “3D”), branching from devices to apps to data management to systems integration. The company also handles everything from quoting to claims settlements for insurers and says that Sprint’s emphasis on 3G and 4G LTE will make it perform all these functions better and faster.

Finally, returning to the theme with which we began, AT&T released a short film, “From One Second to the Next,” that documents the chilling repercussions of texting while driving. The series was filmed and produced by Werner Herzog, a famous German filmmaker, who brings his characteristic gravitas to the subject.

AT&T plans to distribute the series to 40,000 high schools, and safety and government organizations around the world. You can view the video here.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU analysis with information from industry press releases.

Andrew Tolve is a regular contributor to TU.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Insurance Telematics USA 2013 on Sept. 4-5 in Chicago, Telematics Brazil & LATAM 2013 on Sept. 11-12 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Telematics Japan/China 2013 on Oct. 8-10 in Tokyo, Telematics Munich 2013 on Nov. 11-12 in Munich, Germany, Telematics for Fleet Management USA 2013 on Nov. 20-21 in Atlanta, Georgia, and Content and Apps for Automotive USA 2013 on Dec. 11-12 in San Francisco.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: Telematics Connectivity Strategies Report 2013The Automotive HMI Report 2013Insurance Telematics Report 2013 and Fleet & Asset Management Report 2012.

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