More Distractions for Drivers

6:00 PM -- One of the hot gizmos at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin last week was the iLane: a Bluetooth-based dashboard device that synchs with BlackBerries and Treos to let drivers hear their new email messages hands-free.

Meshing voice synthesis and voice activation technology with Bluetooth connectivity, the device -- expected to retail for under $1000, time to market TBD -- automatically detects smartphones when they're in the car and reads out summaries of new email messages in machine-speak. Using voice commands, the user can choose to listen to the full email, forward, reply or delete.

My voice command: "Self-destruct."

Oh, I know there will be a market for these things. And listening to an email is safer than reading your Treo screen while doing 75 on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles, to be sure.

"The reality is that people are using [mobile email devices while driving], and it's very hard to regulate human behavior," Otman Basir, chief executive officer of iLane-maker Intelligent Mechatronic Systems Inc., tells the Globe & Mail. "The human interface of iLane is designed to minimize the impact on a driver's attention."

IMS has already produced some, uhh, debatable automotive devices, like DriveSync, a GPS-based vehicle tracking system that monitors "when, where, how far, how fast and how aggressively a vehicle is driven." Marketed to wary parents lending their Beemers to teenaged kids, the system can also be used to track enterprise fleets. (For that matter, why can't we get one of these in Osama bin Laden's limo?)

I'm worried less about safety than about the intrusion of mobile email into yet another corner of human life that previously seemed off-limits. "Hi boss, I'm driving. Yes, I can send you those updated sales figures now rather than from the truckstop an hour up the road."

The fact that IMS, which is subsidized by the Canadian government and funded in part by investors from Bahrain, is headquartered in Waterloo, Ontario -- home of BlackBerry-maker BlackBerry -- doesn't make me any fonder of this gadget. No doubt I'll find one in my rental car next time I'm in Berlin. Or Toronto.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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