Big squishy cars -- you know, the kind Detroit used to make -- were frequently derided as living rooms on wheels. But that was then. Now, General Motors wants to make its cars and trucks more like smartphones on wheels.
GM says it will embed 4G LTE mobile broadband in most of its 2015 Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac. AT&T will be supplying the bandwidth in the United States and Canada. No word yet on how this will work in other countries.
GM says data speeds will be up to 10 times faster than 3G and will be capable of supporting simultaneous voice and data connections, so the driver can be yakking on the phone while passengers watch TV in the back or catch up on the latest lottery numbers or ball scores.
Of course, this is being presented as a great convenience and safety accomplishment. You'll be able to get updated weather, learn about traffic congestion and road construction and so forth.
On the other hand, talking on the phone, texting and fiddling with apps are already seen as major safety hazards. A recent University of Alabama at Birmingham study found that more than a third (35%) of college students use mobile phone applications while driving.
"The participants seemed to understand that using mobile apps while driving is dangerous, and some have even experienced motor vehicle crashes while using mobile apps, but they continue to do it," said UAB student Lauren McCartney, who conducted the survey.
"The technology is evolving so rapidly that science hasn't caught up to looking at the effects that mobile app usage can have behind the wheel of a car," said McCartney. "But something needs to be done because in psychological terms, Internet use involves substantial cognitive and visual distraction that exceeds talking or texting, making it much more dangerous."
Many other studies have found that, regardless of whether cell phones and devices were handheld or hands-free, humans don't multitask well enough to drive and fiddle with their gadgets.
University of Utah psychologists found in 2010 that there is just a small group of people who have the extraordinary ability to multitask: Unlike 97.5 percent of those studied, they can drive safely while chatting on the phone.
These individuals -- described by the researchers as "supertaskers" - make up just 2.5 percent of the population. They are so-named for their ability to do two things at once successfully. In this case, they can talk on a cell phone while operating a driving simulator without noticeable impairment.
The study, conducted by psychologists Jason Watson and David Strayer, is to appear later this year in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review .
Could be, but there seems little chance carmakers and technology companies will retreat from their campaign to turn cars into something resembling a home entertainment center.
In GM's case, it says its plans build on OnStar’s existing portfolio of built-in connected services, first introduced in GM vehicles in 1996.
The built-in 4G LTE structure is specifically designed for in-vehicle use as it is integrated into the vehicle’s electrical system and includes an external antenna to maximize coverage and connectivity. Customers will not be required to have a smartphone to use connected services, GM said.
“In addition to allowing consumers to bring in and connect to personal mobile devices, the vehicle will also act as its own mobile device, enabling embedded vehicle capabilities,” said Mary Chan, president, Global Connected Consumer, General Motors. “Turning this vision into a reality starts with enabling fast, reliable and responsive connectivity within the vehicle. Through this built-in 4G LTE connection we have the opportunity to reinvent the mobile experience inside a vehicle.”
“While our 4G LTE network will provide fast, reliable mobile broadband for GM’s connected vehicles, we’re also looking forward to working directly with GM researchers and engineers as well as the developer community to invent new in-vehicle applications that will take full advantage of our powerful network,” said Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO, AT&T Mobility.