LAWRENCE – The University of Kansas has partnered with a leading voice-command service company on technologies designed to mitigate distracted driving.
Beginning this fall, a team of KU researchers will work with California-based Voice Assist to analyze the distracted driving market and the company's voice-command service, which enables drivers to make calls, send or respond to texts and e-mails and post to social networks, all by voice command from any phone or Bluetooth device.
Under the direction of Greg Thomas, professor of design and director of the KU Center for Design Research, students in KU's new Advanced Design Studio 560 class will study the Voice Assist service and provide feedback on its features, usability and the potential impact to driver safety and hands-free legislation. The student researchers will work with Thomas and other CDR faculty to provide a full report to Voice Assist later in the year.
"The KU Center for Design Research and Voice Assist are both looking at ways to address the problem of distracted driving," Thomas said. "The fact that a company like Voice Assist, which has some of the most innovative voice-command technology on the market, has asked us to evaluate their product speaks volumes about the CDR and our reputation in the area of distracted driving."
Voice Assist is a subscription-based service that enables users to manage phone calls, emails, texts and social media posts by voice commands – i.e., entirely hands-free – over the phone. The service doesn't require any special software or device, other than a phone or Bluetooth device. Subscribers call the Voice Assist access number and say what they want to do – "Call John" or "Text John that I'm running late" – and the voice recognition technology takes over from there.
As part of the collaboration, Voice Assist has sent the CDR eight Jabra FREEWAY speakerphones. Voice Assist and Jabra last year partnered so that consumers who buy the FREEWAY get a free subscription to Voice Assist.
Thomas arranged the KU-Voice Assist collaboration with Michael Metcalf, Voice Assist founder and CEO, last month at the Connected World Conference, where Thomas delivered a keynote address on distracted driving.
"We are very impressed with the work that the CDR publishes and the leadership that Greg has shown in the area of distracted driving," Metcalf said. "It's unfortunate that so many people are injured or killed every year from distracted driving. In fact, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, distracted driving contributes to up to 8,000 automotive accidents every day. That's almost 3 million accidents per year that could be avoided. We believe there are better ways to reduce driver distraction, and we are glad to work with Greg and his team to support safer and better driving solutions."
The partnership is the latest success for the CDR, which was launched in 2011 to foster interdisciplinary collaboration across KU in the area of smart technology and consumer products. A key focus for the CDR so far has been distracted driving and in-car technologies to make driving safer and more enjoyable. Last year, the CDR received national attention for a presentation on Adaptive Information Displays – also called "smart dashboards" – at the Transportation Research Board in Washington, D.C.
The CDR is part of the School of Architecture, Design and Planning but is open to faculty and students in all KU schools and departments.
Advanced Design Studio 560 is a new class designed by Thomas that enables students to work on technology solutions for industry-sponsored projects. In addition to Voice Assist, Thomas has been in talks with Ford Motor Company, Audi and Bayer HealthCare on potential projects for the fall.