Mercedes-Benz has denied the high-tech connectivity that is one of the headlines of its new A-Class range is a danger to drivers.
The new car has the ability to connect to social media, have news delivered to drivers and send social media updates to friends, but Mercedes says it has worked to ensure the car meets all current regulations – including strict ones in some US states – and holds any distracting information until the car is stationary.
"On the one hand ... there are digital natives. They don't accept a space where their always connected lifestyle gets interrupted," says Daimler chairman and the boss of Mercedes-Benz passenger cars Dr Dieter Zetsche.
"On the other hand we are aware of our responsibility to prevent driver distractions and that's why we ... first of all use the big screen to only select a few of the icons so that you can easily see what you're doing. We have the voice control ... and we limit certain functions for the driving period and you have more access when you stand still."
Mercedes-Benz has two ways of connecting an iPhone (and, by the end of the year, an Android phone). The first, Drive Kit, is a dash mounted bracket that teams with a customised app that reduces the phone's functionality while on the move and changes the display screen to make it easier to read from a distance.
The second system, Drive Kit Plus, connects the phone to the car but uses a larger colour screen on the dash to mirror the functionality of the customised app (not the traditional iPhone layout) on the screen.
Again it's been optimised for driving and things such as longer text displays are disabled when the car is on the move, with the system instead relying on voice control to perform sometimes complex tasks such as emails or social media updates.
"In any case you can do it over voice control and you can have your messages being read to you ... but you should not have a three-page email being shown to you, because that is crossing the line," says Zetsche on what is clearly a hot internal topic at Mercedes-Benz.
"We have self regulation and we are afraid that some of our competitors are testing the borders which is risky because the regulator might feel forced then to take tougher or stricter lines. So we try not to go as far as possible but to do the responsible thing."
The board member responsible for research and development at Mercedes-Benz, Prof Dr Thomas Weber says much work and discussion has gone into the system used in the A-Class but says aftermarket operators keen to capitalise on the electronics-led revolution engulfing cars may force tougher rules.
"We see for some of our competitors for aftermarket solutions a lot of systems which at the end lead to accidents," he says. "I would expect a lot of problems for the whole industry. Better to regulate yourself before the regulators give you harder regulations.
"We are in discussions with the regulators because it is of course in our interests to offer as much as possible features that customers like and expect but there are also rules and regulations in place … we will not go over the limit."
Engineers at the international media launch of the new A-Class were at pains to demonstrate the technology – and how plenty of thought has gone into the operation.
As one engineer pointed out, there are already plenty of potential distractions in a car, from the sound system and increasingly detailed trip computers to satellite-navigation systems, many of which can be programmed on the move.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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