My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: University of Utah Test Hands-Free Voice Assistant Systems - Why Island Traffic Authority must Ban Hands-Free Voice Assistant Systems as they Distracting

Thursday, October 9, 2014

University of Utah Test Hands-Free Voice Assistant Systems - Why Island Traffic Authority must Ban Hands-Free Voice Assistant Systems as they Distracting

“Technologies used in the car that rely on Voice communications may have unintended consequences that adversely affect road safety. The level of distraction and the impact on safety can vary tremendously based on the task or the System the driver is using”

President and Chief Executive Officer of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Peter Kissinger, commenting on the study done by University of Utah that discovered that Hands-Free Voice Assistant Systems cause distractions while driving

I guess Apple’s Siri Voice Assistant may actually be a distraction while driving!

So says a recent study conducted by the University of Utah at the request of the AAA (American Automobile Association) Foundation for Traffic Safety which discerned that some Hands-Free Voice Assistant Systems can cause distractions that compromise Safety while driving as noted in the article “Siri can be distraction to drivers: US study”, published Tuesday, October 07, 2014 4:47 PM, The Jamaica Observer and “Sorry Folks, Siri Is Still Distracting You While You're Driving”, published OCT. 7, 2014, 8:49 PM by SAM COLT, Business Insider.

The researchers from the University of Utah conducted their tests on a sample of forty five (45) drivers using built-in Hands-Free Voice Assistant e.g. the Ford MyFord Touch Voice-control System as well as smartphone based Apple’s Siri Voice Assistant as stated in “'Siri, stop distracting me': controlling smartphones while driving is dangerous, study finds”, published Wednesday 8 October 2014 15.15 BST by Samuel Gibbs, The UK Guardian.

I personally think this is unfair, but it's good to note that with all the Hands-Free Voice Assistant Systems, a microphone was connected to the System and placed on the lapel of the drivers near to their mouth so that they could talk at normal volumes.

The 45 test drivers were then asked to make a nine (9) minute loop through a residential neighborhood while doing the following tasks:

1.      Dial a 10-digit number
2.      Call a contact
3.      Change the radio station
4.      Play a CD using the Hands-Free Voice-control Systems

The researchers made sure to connected sensors to the drivers to measure the following metrics:

1.      The driver’s mental capacity, possibly using an EEG (Electro-encephalograph)
2.      Reaction time possibly via cameras
3.      Heart Rate using an ECG (Electrocardiograph) 

University of Utah test Voice Assistant - Siri Voice Assistant a Bad Apple for most Distracting

They discovered that the various Hands-Free Voice Assistant Systems were actually as distracting as normal cognitive problem solving, to quote the finding of the researchers from the University of Utah: “This indicates that common Voice tasks are generally more demanding than natural conversations, listening to the radio, or listening to a book on tape”.

Apparently Apple’s Siri Voice Assistant was the most distracting when rated on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the most distracting:

4.0 for Apple’s Siri Voice Assistant
3.7 for the Chevrolet MyLink
3.1 for the Mercedes Ccommand 
3.0 for the Ford Synch
2.7 for the Chrysler Uconnect
2.2 for the Hyundai Blue Link
1.7 for the Toyota's Entune 

To quote the researchers from the University of Utah findings as it relates specifically to the Apple iPhone: “The participant neither looked at nor made physical contact with the iPhone during these interactions. Even so, the workload ratings exceeded category 4 on our workload scale – the highest ratings that we have observed for any task”.

If these results are indeed true, then it suggests that the Siri Voice Assistant used in Apple CarPlay needs more sensitive microphones as according to the researchers, the accuracy of Voice detection contributed to the increased level of distraction. Imagine having to repeat your request to the Siri Voice Assistant because if got your request wrong and the building frustration while driving.

In your mind’s eye, you can see how this would affect your concentration while driving.

Hands-Free Voice Assistant Systems - Jamaica's Road Traffic Act needs amending to reflect this reality

Interestingly, the researchers at University of Utah also tried out the various Hands-Free Voice Assistant Systems on updating Facebook or Twitter feeds while driving. Apparently the Siri Voice Assistant was very distracting during these tasks, albeit it does beg to wonder why you'd want to do such a thing while driving, being as texting while driving is supposed to be illegal in most countries.

In Jamaica, we're just in the process of making changes to the Road Traffic Act to make Texting while driving illegal as noted in my blog article entitled “Road Traffic Act to be Amended to Ban Vehicular Cellphones and Tablet usage – HD CCTV Enforcement necessary as Legislation needs Teeth”. Clearly, though, some attention needs to be paid to Hands-Free Voice Assistant Systems, especially Natural Language Voice Assistant Systems such as Siri, as they apparently require a lot of mental activity, enough to cause you to crash.

This is one more thing for the Island Traffic Authority, the ultimate authority within the Road Traffic Act, to ban on Jamaican roads along with banning cellphone usage, mandating Rear-View Cameras to reduce road fatalities due to motorists reversing as proposed in my blog article entitled “Island Traffic Authority to be part of the Road Traffic Act - How HD CCTV Cameras and Rear-View Cameras reduce Vehicles fatalities”  

Overall the researchers from the University of Utah concluded the following: “Poorly executed Voice Systems may … [impose] high levels of mental demand on drivers with the potential to also incur long glances away from the roadway in order to check System status and understanding”.

Guess the ultimate solution is to let the vehicle do the driving for you, as in the case of Google's Fully Autonomous All-Electric Vehicles as explained in my blog article entitled “Google 100 strong Fully Autonomous All-Electric Vehicles launched – 25 mph Limit on AI Chauffeur in 2015 with Black Boxes makes Crashes like aeroplanes”.

The study conducted by the University of Utah at the request of the AAA Foundation needs to be replicated to see if it’s truthful. If so, then it suggests that Apple and other Hands-Free Voice Assistant Systems will have to go back to the drawing board to tweak Apple’s Siri Voice Assistant, which is used in Apple CarPlay to not be such a distracting Bad Apple.

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