One of the more unique products on display at the 2016 CES, and an Innovation Award Winner, was SMARTwheel. It was invented by a group of teens, who ultimately made it to ABC’s Shark Tank. The deal they agreed on was a share of the company based upon a deal with an OEM automaker. Unfortunately, that deal never came to fruition, as most automakers seem to be putting all of their eggs into the development of the autonomous vehicle. However, until fully autonomous and other active safety features are implemented throughout our fleet, the SMARTwheel makes perfect sense, especially for novice drivers who may be texting while driving. According to government statistics, distracted driving is responsible for more than 3,200 deaths and 424,000 injures in the U.S. alone.
The unit’s installation is relatively straightforward: a sheath wraps around the OEM steering wheel. But there is opportunity for the retailer. We’ll get to that… At the 12 o’clock position resides an LED that illuminates green. Take both hands off of the wheel for more than four seconds and the LED turns red, with an audible scolding. The information can then be sent through a smartphone to alert parents or even fleet operators that someone was texting or drinking a Pepsi (and hopefully not worse) while driving.
This kind of product can help bridge the gap between fully autonomous and our aging vehicle fleet in the U.S. In-vehicle behavior modification has been demonstrated effective through a usability study at MIT’s Age Lab, which validated 90 percent of college students involved said the SMARTwheel prototype would be effective in reducing their texting behavior. Teenagers are disproportionally involved in distracted-driving crashes due to their inexperience and tendency to take risks behind the wheel. SMARTwheel research into this issue indicates that getting the device onto the steering wheel of vehicles driven by teens will help them maintain the good driving habits they learned during their supervised education.