What You Really Do Behind the Wheel

PCMag.com

May 12, 2014

Do you know what you do behind the wheel of your car? Do you text and drive? Or do you wait until the car is stopped to check your phone? And do you use the technology on a portable device as opposed to similar features, like apps, that may be included in the car? The real answers may surprise you, and your own answers may be wrong.

Of course, automakers-and maybe government agencies like NHTSA-would like to know how you use technology behind the wheel. But they don't fully know either, even though millions have probably been spent on research, much of which consists of asking drivers about their behind-the-wheel behavior.

Beyond studies on distracted driving, the consumer research firm Aperio Insightsdiscovered that there wasn't much empirical data on how drivers use technology behind the wheel, and so started its own program. It also found a disconnect between what drivers say they do and what they actually do when it comes to using technology in the car.

"How many product planning discussions have centered on which apps to add to the dash without understanding which apps consumers are really using?" said Aperio founder and principle Mike Courtney. "The NSA may know what you do on your phone and computer, but no one seems to have a clear picture of what's happening inside the car."

To find out, Courtney and his team set up a "Rolling Lab" that combines data from smartphone apps and car sensors mixed with time-stamped video to observe, identify, and analyze patterns ofbehavior behind the wheel. And because the in-car video camera acts as an objective fly on the wall, as opposed to someone with a clipboard conducting clinical research, it repeatedly captures real driver conduct-like reading an ebook while in traffic-without them even realizing it or willing to admit it.

Captured on video: you

You can see Aperio's Rolling Lab in action in an online video (below). While the clip gives just a small taste of the data that Aperio plans to use to help automakers and their suppliers create better connected car features, Courtney used the example of the test subject named "Joe" to show what the Rolling Lab can reveal.

Aperio used the Rolling Labs to observe Joe's phone usage during an eight-hour drive to pick up his daughter at college. "We identified patterns of behavior, such as frequently checking the weather and updating family members on his location and progress via text messages," noted Courtney. The Lab also captured Joe's speed to see how fast he was driving when he checked different apps. "We were able to understand the factors that may have caused Joe to drive slower and check his weather app more frequently," Courtney added.

Courtney stressed that understanding the context and reason for of Joe's compulsive weather-checking-to keep his family updated on his progress and the weather along the way-is key. "Had we asked him about his habits, Joe would have likely given us a general answer that would not have included all of the details required to really understand how he currently uses his apps and what could improve the experience," Courtney explained.

"If you ask most consumers what they want from their connected car experience, most will immediately point to their phone or tablet," he added. "The trouble is these devices have been designed for hands-on, eyes-on use." And since connected car technology is still in its infancy-or more like in its difficult teen stage and trying to find a cohesive identity-for better or worse it has followed the lead of portable devices in offering features that are not always driving-centric, like Facebook.

To make Joe's drive better and safer, the car could sync with his calendar to know when his road trip starts and his destination even before he even slips behind the wheel. Then, based on learning Joe's habits, the car could automatically display the weather along the way, and report his progress to his wife and others he wants to keep informed-without Joe having to look down at his device.

While automakers are already working on this type of predictive user experience, better understanding driver behavior is critical, Courtney said. "Observation-without being obtrusive-helps us to capture and identify patterns that happen automatically or without conscious thought," he added. "The more auto manufacturers can understand what consumers are trying to accomplish in their cars, they can design and create connected car experiences that will surprise and delight their customers." And also know what they're really doing behind the wheel.

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