Battling driver distraction [Detroit Free Press]
(Detroit Free Press (MI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) April 03--The debate over driver distraction is just beginning, and Mouhamad Naboulsi of West Bloomfield has a technology that might bridge the gap between regulators' doubts and automakers' excitement about turning our cars into smartphones on wheels.
Naboulsi's company, iQ-Telematics, is based on the premise that banning drivers from using cell phones, texting and tweeting won't work. Controlling when these wireless toys have the ability to grab our attention, however, just might. He has developed a range of software products that can disable smartphones, social networks and even global positioning systems when a driver most needs to focus on driving.
In 2009, the latest year for which the government has data, distracted driving was a factor in 5,474, or 16%, of all traffic fatalities in the U.S., said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Naboulsi's software, which is patented in the U.S. and some European countries, takes whatever physical and historical information a driver willingly provides. Past driving violations, most frequently called contacts, phone numbers you don't want to respond to while driving, type of phone and more. The sensors can detect when a hand leaves the steering wheel. They can detect when a right hand lifts a cup from a cupholder, then deactivate the phone. They even can measure if the driver's voice grows louder as in a stressful conversation.
In other words, this database of potential disruptions can be programmed into a vehicle's Bluetooth system to prevent the phone from ringing, or the e-mail from being read until the driver stops.
Automakers are relying heavily on voice-recognition technology to enable drivers to access everything from Facebook updates to tweets without taking hands from the steering wheel.
"Automakers think voice recognition will solve all safety and distraction problems, but research has found it is at best 80% effective," said Naboulsi, who has worked for Mazda and a series of suppliers as an electrical engineer.
He cites research from a Japanese law enforcement agency that found that about two-thirds of accidents involving cell phones in that country occur as a phone rings or the driver dials, before any conversation begins.
So far, Naboulsi's idea is just that. He has no manufacturing contract or plant. He has been marketing through trade shows and conferences. He has attended the last two Distracted Driving summits, held in Washington, D.C., by NHTSA, and the Governor's Highway Safety Association convention. He also has tried to interest the insurance industry, but so far he has no orders.
With startup capital raised mostly from family and friends, Naboulsi totes a modest demonstration unit to anyone who will listen. There's a wooden steering wheel covered in foam rubber padding and sensors that connect to two early-generation cell phones. A laptop sits next to the steering wheel, housing the database and software that controls when the phones are active and idle.
Naboulsi's promotional material describes separate products such as the iQ-Teens for parents with teenage drivers and iQ-Wheel for professionals whose jobs demand they work from their vehicles.
At this stage iQ-Telematics lacks the glitz one might find in a global automaker's technical center or the software temples of Silicon Valley. Naboulsi essentially runs the business out of his home. In a recent demonstration, most of the functions Naboulsi described worked as intended.
He envisions selling his software through automotive aftermarket retailers, but doesn't have a purchase order yet.
So the tedious slog of the persistent entrepreneur goes on. He holds to the belief that regulatory pressure eventually will drive automakers and larger suppliers to see the need for what he's created.
"Basically, without regulation we have a $300 phone that is the tail wagging a $25,000 dog, which is the entire vehicle," Naboulsi said.
Contact Greg Gardner: 313-222-8762 or email@example.com
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