Microsoft patents “safe driving mode” feature for mobile phones and cars

Brad Stephenson

Microsoft has just filed a patent for a potential “safe driving mode” for mobile phones and a “safe driving service” which could possibly integrate into future smart cars.

The purpose of both is to reduce the number of accidents and fatalities on the road cause by smartphone-induced driver distraction and they are intended to work together but due to the nature of the patent description, there are numerous aspects that could be implemented individually as well.

The “safe driving mode” will essentially limit functionality to a device while its owner is driving and is intended to be as distraction-free as possible with no pin code or password input being required to activate or deactivate it. Once activated, the device’s regular lock screen would change to a “driving mode” lock screen. Several regular phone functions would be disabled. It sounds similar to the commonly used Airplane Mode, which turns off phone signals when enabled, and also the Kindle FreeTime mode on Amazon’s Kindle Fire devices which restricts access to stores and social features.

This “safe driving mode” could work in tandem with the proposed “safe driving service” by communicating with other connected devices including the car itself to activate the mode or send warnings to the driver. The patent reads, “The driver of a vehicle may be identified with a vehicle camera, or vehicle sensors, such as to detect voice ID, other biometric ID (e.g., a fingerprint reader integrated into the steering wheel), and/or other types of sensors within the vehicle that report back to the device to indicate that the user of the device is driving the vehicle. Other types of sensors may include seat sensors, and heat and/or contact sensors integrated into the steering wheel of a vehicle.”

Microsoft's proposed "safe driving mode"
Microsoft’s proposed “safe driving mode”

This passage in particular is very interesting and brings to mind the Microsoft-powered smart car which was revealed back in May and could very well implement this sort of technology.

This “safe driving service” could also potentially send alerts to the driver if the phone detects in-car music is playing to loud, and can also sense through motion-tracking if the driver is driving erratically. Using location services, this service can also tell if the car is speeding. “The safe driving service is also implemented to receive speed limit data that corresponds to a location of the vehicle, and communicate a vehicle speed limit to the vehicle to control vehicle speed at the location of the vehicle. The safe driving service is also implemented to determine that the vehicle has stopped at an unknown location and determine the location of the vehicle from the location data. The safe driving service can then generate an unsafe driving notification to indicate that the vehicle has stopped at the unknown location.”

Many adults would probably opt-out of using such a service unless it was implemented extremely well, but the patent does suggest that teenage drivers could be an intended market. “A safe driving service can also be implemented to provide safe driving phone reports, such as a safe driving report for a teenage driver that is sent to a parent’s device, for accountability and reporting. The reporting may also be via a cloud-based data service that aggregates the data in the cloud and generates a driving report for distribution to designated devices, such as to the parent of a teenage driver,” the patent reads. “A parent of a teenage driver, for example, can determine unsafe driving habits and behavior in a transparent manner, which provides the parent a reporting tool and an opportunity for a safety-minded conversation. This approach may be a preferable alternative to completely locking or disabling the teenage driver’s phone.”

Microsoft's proposed "safe driving mode"
Microsoft’s proposed “safe driving mode”

The patent claims other possible features as well such as the ability to connect to a vehicle when a learner is driving and automatically limit the maximum speed of the car. The service could also detect and remind a driver when a car needs to be serviced and could automatically alert emergency services if there was a crash. It could even slow a vehicle down if there was a blown tire.

The “safe driving service” could be implemented within a group of cars. “As a driver approaches a vehicle, the driver’s phone is identified to the vehicle and can be paired with the vehicle, such as via Bluetooth, WiFi, or other addressable device,” for example. “This may be integrated with a key fob location proximate the ignition switch in a vehicle and/or setup for different profiles based on the vehicle and phone to checkout a vehicle.”

Throughout the patent, Microsoft makes it clear numerous times that a combination of cloud and network services would be used in conjunction with the physical hardware and this is something they definitely have a lot of experience with. Does this proposed “safe driving mode” and safe driving service” excite you? Let us know which particular features you would like to use in the comments below.