Sam Asano's Let's Invent: Thinking through the TWD solution
THE CONCEPT to automatically prevent texting while driving (TWD) has been in discussion for some time among the engineering community, and I proposed to submit a patent application according to my own idea. Readers will witness the proceedings of the application from the birth of the concept to application, argument and finally getting a patent.
The patent application will be written and shown in the next few columns. However, we are going to show you the thinking steps required before the patent application can be written. First is the question, "Is there a market for the system?"
The case of automatic prevention of texting while driving is a peculiar one. So let's do the first step correctly. Define the problem in practical English.
When attempting to TWD, the driver's attention is diverted to texting from paying attention to driving safely. This produces a high probability of an accident. These accidents could cause serious injuries or death to the driver and passengers in the car. The casualty could be extended to the drivers of other cars who get involved in the accident.
A car driven at the speed of 60 mph hits an oncoming car in the opposite direction in the same speed range that would have the impact force of 120 mph, and this will certainly result in a high probability of death if not very serious injury. Now let's try to find out why people try texting while driving.
An inventor working or attempting to work on a problem such as above, MUST first understand the cause as well. The cause may be a physical issues: limitation of a mechanism, poorly designed section of working, heat problem, etc.
What causes TWD? A compulsive behavior or habit that borders on addiction. People who are compelled to text while they drive likely would do anything they could to disable or modify a mechanism or alarm designed to thwart them.
As you know, all text messages you receive while driving a car are NOT urgent or important. Text messages are just another social link, and the best we can describe is "what's up?" or "howdy?" Since nobody drives continuously from dawn to dusk with no stops in between, all messages can be answered well within a few hours when pulling into a rest area.
Design criteria for solution
Once it is clear that texting while driving is caused by addictive behavior, a normal mean to automatically prevent just wouldn't work reliably. Texters will always find out the method to disable the prevention mechanism. There are other design restrictions that need to be observed. What we need to automatically prevent texting is only for the driver. The disabling system shouldn't affect passengers. They should be able to text as they please. This restriction makes the system one notch more complex to design. The other factor is speed. If the car is parked, whether the engine is on or off, the text prevention system should be disabled for both drivers and passengers.
Only when the car starts moving at, say, 2 mph, the disabling should function, and the driver can no longer text. The concept I proposed was to shower the driver with infrared light (invisible) emitted from the ceiling area, but not the passenger seating areas, both front and rear.
The infrared shower sources (LED) are distributed inside the ceiling panel, and the driver cannot easily shield with adhesive black tape. The coverage of infrared shower extends partially into the front passenger seat as well as outside of the front driver's window so that the driver cannot text with his/her left hand sticking out of the window.
This means that auto manufacturers need to add the infrared shower system as well as the signal input circuitry that connects the shower to the electronic speedometer.
The infrared shower is activated when the car's speed reaches 2 mph. When the smart phone receives infrared shower, it answers all text massages with a "DRIVING, CANNOT REPLY" statement. This requires that the design change must be incorporated into all cell phones, and this means all cell phone manufacturers have to comply with the recommendation by the government.
What about reception? Should the driver be able to receive texts while driving? I would say NO! That's a strong enticement to violate the prevention system. Either he would stop the car to text back all the time, or develop a system to disable the prevention mechanism permanently. So the design decision is for the driver in motion not to be able to receive or transmit text messages.
Another question is "What about the phone calls?" Should the driver, while the car is in motion, be able to receive or make phone calls? What do you think? The regulations are different by state to state. However, I see drivers on the road talking on the phone all the time. If we ban it that will have some strongly negative social response. I will just leave this point undecided as the system is capable either way.
In conclusion, this system requires a strong governmental intervention such as what happened with airbags, when all manufacturers were forced to install airbag accommodation.
Law Enforcement is essential in eliminating the high-accident risk of texting while driving. Regardless of how well the prevention system is designed, there'd be some drivers who would short-circuit the system. Beyond that point, we need to rely on the law enforcement people. So far this is the design criterion that resulted in the TWD prevention system for cars.
Shintaro"Sam"Asano of New Castle, who speaks and writes English as a second language, was named by MIT in 2011 as one of the 10 most influential inventors of the 20th century who improved our life. He is a businessman and an inventor in the field of electronics and mechanical systems, who is credited as the original inventor of today's portable fax machine. He also developed a data tablet used in the retail point of sale to capture customer signatures when credit cards are used. Write to him at email@example.com.