Profiting from stupidity

Douglas A. Bolduc is News Editor of Automotive News Europe
One of the most disappointing pieces of news to come out last week was that the U.S. government has banned hand-held texting by drivers of large commercial trucks and buses to avoid the danger of distracted driving.

Don't get me wrong, this ban make perfect sense and eventually most countries around the globe will outlaw texting for all drivers.

What doesn't make sense is that elected and appointed officials actually have to tell a certain percentage of the population not to be so darn stupid and irresponsible.

But where there is stupidity, there is the potential for profitability.

Speech technology specialist Nuance Communications Inc. is one of the companies working on technology that will let text-addicts dictate a message while driving. Arnd Weil, a Germany-based general manager at Nuance, expects the feature to be in production as early as next year.

Nuance already provides speech recognition technology to Fiat and Microsoft's Blue&Me infotainment system that allows a person to control an iPod with voice commands and have text messages read while driving.

Said Weil: "If you are using an iPod while driving it is only a matter of time before you have an accident, and with texting it is even worse."

He's correct. The National Safety Council, a U.S.-based research and advocacy group, estimates that texting has caused more than 200,000 crashes on U.S. roads alone. The figure has to be the same if not worse in Europe.

That means Nuance, its Tier 1 supplier partners such as Robert Bosch GmbH and Harman Becker Automotive Systems, and its rivals such as IBM Corp., VoiceBox Technologies Inc., Loquendo S.p.A. and SVOX AG should move even faster with the launch of this life-saving technology.

If they don't, it will only extend the time that most of us will have to wonder whether the driver of that fast-approaching vehicle in the rear-view mirror is watching the words “I luv u” appear on his phone's display rather than watching the road ahead.