Last week, I ran across an article at Engadget about a new crowd-funded product that the tech world is excited about. Thanks to the magic of cookies, the product has followed me to my Facebook timeline in the form of an ad, which reminded me to write this post.
They’re talking about Navdy, a product that makes you “feel like you’re driving in the future,” or at least a future where distracted driving is taken to new and exciting frontiers.
What the product does is project information from your phone onto your windshield. Some of that information is relevant to driving, such as map navigation, and possibly in the future parking information from SF Park. The rest? Not so much.
Apparently driving is so boring that drivers cannot resist texting and checking emails for the duration of their trip. Navdy comes to the rescue by blowing up your text messages onto your windshield so you don’t have to deal with the monotony of driving by instead engaging in a titillating text-based conversation.
The worst part is that this group of entrepreneurs is trying to pitch this as a way to PREVENT distracted driving. Their reasoning is that drivers won’t be looking down at their laps, but will continue to look forward.
Their video says “you need your eyes in front of you – you need Navdy”
Problem is, that’s not how distraction works.
On their website, they contrast two images. The first, shows a phone in full sharpness, with the world around it blurred away.
Right on; when you’re focused on your phone, you’re not focused on the road.
But then when they show their product, the whole world is clear when the person is reading their text.
But that’s not how our brains work. When we’re focused on reading text, the world in the background may TECHNICALLY continue to be perfectly clear (as our eyes aren’t limited in focusing like cameras are), but that doesn’t mean our brain is processing it. In reality, it’s just as blurred because we’ve stopped paying attention to everything but the text. Go ahead, look at the image above and read the message – that’s all you really see.
As another common example, have you ever been reading a book, newspaper or report, and not noticed someone walk up to you, directly in your eye line, until they made a noise, thus startling you?
They may have been in your field of vision. Your eyes might have even seen them. But that doesn’t mean your brain did. They were ignored – it simply wasn’t processed because you cared more about the text in your book.
|Even a dragon might go unseen if the text is demanding our full attention|
It will be the same for drivers. Just because the text message and the pedestrian are in the same line of sight, doesn’t mean they will both be seen.
Incidentally, the image they chose isn’t doing them any favors. A cable car where passengers get on and off in the street, two cyclists, a truck, an intersection… Does the driver really need to be making coffee plans?
The website has a fun video showing you how exciting this product is. But when you watch it, look at the speaker’s eyes. At minute 1:20, the demonstration shows how this device can read your texts to you, so you don’t have to read it yourself, but the eyes give it away – even with audio, the driver is focused on the device, and not the road.
Also from the video: Of course it’s safe! That’s what pilots use! Please. Aside from the fact that pilots are limited to important navigational information, not twitter, they don’t exactly have to worry about a pedestrian or cyclist crossing in front of them. It’s a ridiculous comparison.
Navdy may be safer than having a phone in your lap and looking down at it, but it doesn’t mean it’s a huge improvement. In fact, by making the distractions even more accessible, it might just mean more dangerous results. When your phone vibrates, you can choose to ignore it. When your new message pops into your windshield, showing that restraint becomes a little more difficult.
The team behind it knows that they’re playing in a grey area.
“In our interpretation, it’s a transparent image, and it doesn’t obstruct your view,” Simpson says. “The laws that apply to us are about stickers and tinted windows, not HUDs.” Navdy hopes the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will ultimately say HUDs are a good thing since they let people view data without looking away from what’s in front of them.
Hopefully the NHTSA sees otherwise, as we can assume they’ll run real tests, and not marketing hypotheticals. Sadly, that agency moves slower than the Muni F-line, so it’s likely thousands of these things will be on the road well before a ruling comes out.
That being said, at $499, cost might slow things down faster than the feds will.