The Google patent would analyze position and motion to determine whether an electronic function is being used by the car's driver or passenger.

Driving safety is the goal of a new Google patent that would help prevent distracted driving, as Cam Bunton writes for 9To5Google. The technology addressed in the patent would make it possible for devices such as smartwatches or computerized eyewear worn by people in vehicles to know if the wearer is the driver or a passenger, with the goal of preventing vehicle accidents.

Although there already are apps intended to prevent distracted driving, they haven’t been able to tell if the user of the app is the driver or a passenger, an issue that has been raised since such apps were first developed. It also was raised in reference to a radar-gun type device being developed by ComSonics that lets police detect people texting in vehicles. In a Computer World column about the device a year ago, Darlene Storm asked, “[H]ow will the device know the difference between a driver texting and a passenger texting?”

Because there are apps of all types, along with in-vehicle infotainment systems, there are always possibilities for distraction. As Michael Crider writes for Android Police:

While the advantages of systems like in-dash navigation and text-to-speech SMS reading are obvious, every extra gadget that travels with you while you’re driving has the potential to be a dangerous distraction.

The Nuts and Bolts

Crider details how the Google technology credited to Mohammed Waleed Kadous in Patent #9,037,125 would identify whether the wearer of an electronic device is the driver or the passenger. By looking at where the user is seated and using motion detection, it tries (with a variable degree of probability) to determine whether the user is actually driving the vehicle. Detectable motions include turning the steering wheel and operating a gear shift, probably using some of the same technology that lets Google determine whether you’re walking or riding a bike. The wearable and the device it’s connected to can then react, presumably for functions like disabling incoming calls or message notifications.

This system could prove to be a much-needed safety tool, at the same time allowing passengers to access their smartphones in a moving vehicle, Crider writes. According to NK Patent Law, once the system mentioned in the patent is produced (if ever), it will mean passengers will no longer be unnecessarily prevented from using certain apps, as the patent explains. Bunton notes that there is no guarantee that any patent will ever make it to production.

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