UK transport research body calls for safer in-vehicle technologies

Voice-controlled systems are the future of autonomous, according to TRL, whose recommendations follow a report into Apple CarPlay and Android Auto demanding improved standards in voice-activated infotainment systems

A new study from the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) into the impacts of in-vehicle infotainment systems such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay on driving performance has concluded that more usage of voice-activated systems will be key in reducing driver distraction-related accidents.

Driver distraction is widely recognised as an important road safety issue – the more attention a driver diverts away from the main driving task, the more their driving behaviour will be negatively affected. With driver distraction estimated to be a factor in up to 30% of vehicle collisions across Europe, the improved safety of in-vehicle infotainment systems is a must if this number is to be decreased in the future, says the TRL report, commissioned by IAM Roadsmart, FIA Road Safety and Rees Jeffreys Road Fund.

TRL said that by improving voice-activated systems through the use of such technology as conversational artificial intelligence (AI), it is possible for infotainment systems to become less distracting for drivers. To improve the use and safety impact of in-vehicle technologies, says TRL, an agreed framework for testing is required so that manufacturers can demonstrate a system’s safe use before bringing it to market.

The research also noted that evidence showed driver distraction levels are much higher when using touchscreen technologies rather than voice-activated systems.

However, Neale Kinnear, head of behavioural science at TRL, said further research was necessary to steer the use of spoken instructions as the safest method for future in-car control.

“Alongside improvements in voice-activated systems, there is opportunity to improve systems so that we don’t make the driving task more complicated in the future,” he said. “The results of this study clearly show that touch-control infotainment systems are highly distracting to drivers, far more so than voice-activated systems.

“However, even current voice control systems increase drivers’ reaction times and remain a concern for road safety. This is why TRL is recommending that we put our efforts into developing a framework for testing and improving the human factors of such systems.

“TRL would like to see safety standards improved around infotainment systems, not just by their definition, but also through the harmonisation of standards across the entire transport sector.”

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The research also highlighted how innovations in conversational AI are resulting in improving voice activation as a method of control to greatly reduce the workload on a driver. Currently, voice control systems only understand a set of key commands, but conversational AI enables speech interfaces to operate at a complex level.

Thanks to conversational AI, this will widen commands to include all forms of dialogue, enabling a versatile, natural interaction. Once this is achieved, voice control systems will be revolutionised, said TRL. 

Andy Peart, chief marketing and strategy officer at Artificial Solutions, developer of AI technology designed to enable enterprises to rapidly build conversational AI systems, said there was no doubt that conversational AI will be the defining technology of the next decade. “As [conversational AI] becomes smarter, faster and more advanced, AI will be of immense benefit to in-vehicle systems by allowing more complex user demands to be understood and fulfilled, as well as enabling multi-directional interaction to occur between the system and the consumer,” he said.

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