Motion-sensing technology is re-routing voice calls as texts or voicemail, highlighting the innovative ways companies are taking to curb distracted driving.
NEC’s technology can tell whether the phone’s owner is walking, in a car, in a train or at rest, and then determines the best possible transmission of an incoming call, choosing to send an email or a voicemail depending on the user’s status.
The company expects to debut the motion-sensor software at Mobile World Congress 2012 next week, and have it ready for release in June.
NEC’s development marks the next step towards seamless integration between mobile use and daily life, but perhaps the most important application will be for drivers. Texting or talking while driving is an increasingly common cause of car crashes, and a technology that bypasses a ringing phone has the potential to lessen driver distraction.
“A person’s activity, whether they are driving, in a meeting or exercising, has a significant impact on the best way to take a call,” says NEC vice president Keiko Matsunaga. “NEC’s new solution facilitates smoother, less intrusive communications by automatically recommending the most appropriate contact method.”
Public service campaigns nationwide warn of the dangers of cell phone use while driving, but it’s still a frequent cause of accidents. Lawmakers, in turn, are cracking down on the practice. But despite the known risks and penalties, drivers still reach for the phones when they’re behind the wheel, with one in 11 traffic deaths caused from crashes involving phones last year.
Drivers often use helpful features when leaving phones working in their cars, such as GPS, maps or hands-free capabilities. But having the device powered on leaves the driver vulnerable to more distracting communication.
Since the current strategies aren’t necessarily fixing the problem, it’s a smart move on behalf of device makers to invent features that limit the temptation to call or text while driving. A vehicle plug-in that disables phone use in cars is one method, but NEC’s technology takes that concept a step further by embedding the ability directly in the device.
NEC’s technology could have many implications for how smartphone owners use their phones in their day-to-day activities, but it addresses the safety element of taking a call. Should the software find its way into a new handset, it could offer a new selling point for safety-minded consumers who want to avoid the risk of getting caught driving while dialing.