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New Technology Prevents Cell Phone Use While Driving

  • George Putic

Almost everybody acknowledges the danger of using a hand-held cell phone while driving, yet over a three-year period in the U.S., 180 people were killed in car accidents involving cell phones.

The National Safety Council said more than a quarter of all car accidents in the U.S. were related to cell phone use. Yet, when the phone rings, many drivers cannot keep themselves from reaching for it.

A group of engineering students at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, have now developed a phone app that prevents the driver from talking or texting on a cell phone, while the passengers’ phones operate normally.

It did not require installation of any additional electronic equipment in the car, said the project leader, Associate Professor Yingying Chen.

“The basic idea is that, when there's an incoming call or the driver wants to do the texting, basically the phone will send out a customized sound. And the sound will be picked up by the audio unit of the vehicle and automatically played back by the speakers in the vehicle,” said Chen.

The customized sound is above the human hearing range but the phone’s microphone records it. By calculating the distance between itself and each of the car’s speakers, the phone can determines its position inside the car.

If the phone is on the driver’s side, it re-routes the call to voicemail or delays the text message, effectively blocking its use by the driver. And it works even if loud music is playing through the speakers.

Chen said the first version of the app required the car's audio unit to be turned on, but the next version would try not to rely on the speakers.

“We just utilize the sensors on the smartphones, including accelerometer and the gyroscope, and that can also help us determine whether the phone is on the driver side or the passenger side,” said Chen.

Chen said this collaborative project of PhD students from the Stevens Institute and Rutgers University has been successfully tested on the streets.

Two large cell phone companies, AT&T and Verizon, have expressed interest in integrating the new app with their service.

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