Ford Tweaks Sync Amid Texting While Driving Bans

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As the issue of texting while driving grows in prominence nationally, Ford Motor Co. said it would expand its Sync system with new features to give drivers safer alternatives to hand-held texting and keep them more focused on the road.

To help make the in-car connection safer, Ford is improving the Sync text message readback feature and empowering drivers with a “Do Not Disturb” button so they can decide the level of connectivity and communications they want to manage while in the car. Ford is also taking the proactive step to “lock-out” capabilities that are not relevant to the task of driving while the vehicle is in motion.

“Text messaging has become the default communications method for consumers of all ages,” said John Schneider, chief engineer, Ford multimedia and infotainment engineering. “The power of Sync voice control combined with Ford’s latest connectivity improvements will reduce the temptation to pick up the phone and take your eyes off the road, providing a safer solution for the use of mobile devices in the car.”

Ford believes drivers should keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel and was the first automaker to support a proposed federal ban and state-level legislation banning hand-held texting while driving. In turn, Ford also understands that drivers want to be connected to their mobile worlds while on the road, and texting continues to grow as a preferred communication method. According to a new poll from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, for example, approximately one in four (27 percent) American adults and driving age teens (26 percent) admit to texting while driving.

Ford will offer the new features on 2011 model year vehicles equipped with MyFord or MyLincoln Touch, the intuitive driver connect technology that provides drivers personalized access to information and entertainment through voice control, touch screens and familiar five-way controls mounted on the steering wheel.

Bluetooth is the standard technology that allows electronic devices such as a mobile phone and Ford Sync to communicate with each other wirelessly. To improve the number of phones that can communicate with Sync so the system can read aloud incoming text messages to drivers, Ford has adopted the latest Bluetooth standard – Message Access Profile (MAP).

“Today, only a small population of phones have the capability to work with the text message readback feature of Sync,” added Schneider. “With MAP technology, even more drivers will be able to use Sync to listen to text messages.”

Defined by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, the MAP standard outlines a set of features and procedures used to exchange email, SMS, and MMS messages between devices. It is tailored to the automotive hands-free environment where an onboard terminal device — in this case, Sync — takes advantage of the messaging capability of a communications device, such as a BlackBerry smartphone.

The Bluetooth SIG recommendations are considered benchmarks, but they’re not industry requirements. Ford has elected to implement the MAP to signal support for the protocol and encourage additional mobile device manufacturers to add the capability in their products.

“It’s only through acceptance of common standards industry-wide that key technologies can be adapted to the in-vehicle environment,” said Schneider. “We’re hoping to encourage the adoption of MAP so more customers — and more mobile devices — can successfully use the innovative features Sync has to offer, helping reduce the problem of driver distraction.”

According to a 100-car study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, driver inattention that involved looking away from the road for more than a few seconds was a factor in nearly 80 percent of accidents. By providing drivers with the ability to receive audible, hands-free texts, Ford is hoping to help drivers focus on the task of driving.

Ford is already working with Research In Motion and supports the company’s intention to begin implementing it in all new BlackBerry smartphones.

“RIM plans to implement MAP on BlackBerry smartphones moving forward and we are pleased to work with Ford in an effort to foster industry-wide adoption and standardization,” said Andrew Bocking, vice president of handheld software product management at Research In Motion.

Ford has also proactively designed the MyFord and MyLincoln Touch driver connect system to give drivers more control of how they manage communications while in the car. Screens can be personalized to display information relevant to an individual driver using a simple button click, voice command or touch-screen tap.

The new 2011 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX will be first to offer the “Do Not Disturb” button. This handy feature blocks incoming phone calls or text messages from a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone paired with Sync; diverting calls into voicemail and saving text messages on the device for viewing later. But unlike turning the phone off, drivers can still make voice-activated outgoing phone calls, if they so decide, and the Sync 911 Assist feature can make a call to 911 in case of emergency.

In addition, Ford continues to limit access to a variety of communication features while the vehicle is in motion, thus encouraging drivers to use voice commands if they wish to access the function.

Ford is also taking the proactive step of locking out or limiting content and capabilities of MyFord Touch that are not related to the task of driving when the vehicle is in motion, for instance:

* Screens with information not intended to be used by the driver while driving such as point-of-interest reviews and ratings plus Sirius Travel Link sports scores, movie listings, and ski conditions
* Any action that requires typing on a keypad (for example, typing a navigation destination, editing information)
* Limiting lists of navigation and phone choices that the user can view to fewer entries (e.g. phone contacts, recent phone call entries)

Specific functions that are locked out when the vehicle is in motion include:

Cell phone:
* Pairing a Bluetooth-capable phone
* Manually adding individual contacts into the phone book
* Viewing received text messages on screen

WiFi Connectivity
* Web browsing on the vehicle screen

Video/Photos/Graphics
* Playing video
* Album cover art and Phonebook photo browsing
* Editing photos
* Editing the screen’s wallpaper or adding a new one
* Navigation
* Destination entry by touchscreen keyboard input (voice entry is permissible)

More at www.ford.com.

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