Phone disabling: Technology takes it beyond the driver's seat

The idea of disabling phones for drivers takes on a new meaning as technology opens to the door to new areas where phones need to be disabled.

One of the problems trying to be solved by startups at CTIA Wireless this week was that of texting while driving. A handful of companies were on-hand to showcase tools that disable phone usage or reroute calls to voice mail while the owner is driving. One company even had a cool marketing message about giving teenagers another reason to hate their parents.

One company, Safe Driving Systems, showcased its flagship product, called Key2SafeDriving, which installs in a car. The device detects when the car is running and sends a signal to the registered phone to reroute calls to voicemail and inform callers, via text, that the driver will respond when he or she is no longer driving.

I liked it because it will sooner offer Web tools to monitor and track driving patterns and behaviors, as well as phone usage. (No wonder teens will hate it.) The tool is smart enough to differentiate between drivers and passengers and will still work to make an emergency call.

One other company, Try Safety First, is working on technology that takes the idea of disabling mobile devices to a new level by unleashing Bluetooth technology.

It involves two things: 1) a set of "distraction prevention protocols" that can be embedded as a universal standard for all mobile phones and 2) smarter Bluetooth technology that involves "active Bluetooth sensors."

Here's how it would work. Certain environments would control those Bluetooth settings that would impact phone's within the reach of the sensors. To really understand it, consider a few of the example scenarios:

  • In a courtroom, instead of asking people to silence phones, the officers could hit a switch that would disable them once court is called to session.
  • At the movies, a sensor would silence phones in the theater once the lights start to dim.
  • In church services, a phone could be forced into silent mode.
  • In the classroom, teachers can engage students in a lesson involving their mobile devices and then flip a switch to disable them when it comes time to take a quiz.

It's an interesting idea and the company has its efforts focused on standardizing the technologies and getting legislators, insurance companies and auto manufacturers on-board.

The initial rollout will be as an after-market product that would retail for about $149. More information about the company's efforts at standardization is available on its Web site.

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