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Toyota Sticking With Album Art for Now

Executive Summary

A Toyota engineer says he and his colleagues in infotainment keep tabs on what the public is saying about the feature, and notes feedback presently is divided.

SALINE, MI – Toyota, with a strong corporate adherence to “safety first” in light of recent recalls, is confident that continuing to show album art on the touchscreen inside its latest models doesn’t create a disruption behind the wheel.

“Based on a lot of driver distraction studies, we feel comfortable it’s OK to display the cover art,” Scott Friedman, an engineer for Toyota electronic systems, tells WardsAuto here at a recent ’15 Camry event.

NHTSA in 2012 issued an initial notice of voluntary guidelines it hoped would limit the increasing problem of driver distraction.

One of the guidelines advised that album art, a picture of an artist or artist’s album displayed on the in-car screen while his song is playing on the car stereo, be eliminated in the cockpit. NHTSA believes photos such as these will divert a driver’s eyes from the road, perhaps for too long a period of time.

Friedman says he and his colleagues in infotainment engineering keep tabs on what the public is saying about the feature and notes feedback presently is divided.

“Some people like it, some people don’t,” he says. “From a distraction standpoint, it’s one way or the other.”

However, Friedman says Toyota has not written off the NHTSA voluntary guidelines but rather is trying to “figure out how we’re going to implement” them.

When NHTSA last year issued set guidelines it softened its stance that album art be eliminated, after objections from automakers including Toyota, Honda, Ford and Nissan. But the agency wants such an image to disappear once a selection is made.

“Removing the task-related image upon completion of the task ensures that the image is not available to visually distract the driver,” NHTSA said in the 2013 guidelines.

It’s unclear if Toyota is using internal or external studies for justification to continue showing album art. A Honda simulator-based study profiled in the 2013 NHTSA guidelines looked at eye-glance behavior, lane position and headway from 20 people shown album art. It found “the 85th percentile of single-glance duration was 1.73 seconds,” less than the 2.0 seconds maximum the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has decreed a safe length of time for a single glance away from the road.

NHTSA took issue with Honda’s study for not testing for the length of a glance when solely the name of an artist and title of a song was presented, not just an image.

Friedman says Toyota continues to strive to limit driver distraction, largely through improvements made to its Entune infotainment system.

For instance, he says with Entune 2.0, already on the new Toyota Highlander and now in the ’15 Camry sedan, voice recognition now is easier to use, thanks to less-structured speech and fewer steps to get to what you want. The first-generation Entune system debuted on the ’12 Camry.

“So in previous voice-recognition systems you’d have to go through a strict menu structure and say the right word at the right time,” he says. “(Now) we added a lot more commands that are recognizable, and recognizable as we call it at a global scale.

“If (customers) say, ‘What’s the weather in the Chicago?’ it’ll be able to understand that, and if you have an HD data connection it’ll be able to bring up the weather.”

Toyota also is excited about the voice-recognition training and tutorials available on Entune 2.0.

The training is a 10-minute process wherein the car essentially learns a driver’s voice, helped along by a series of sentences the driver must repeat, including, “Reserve a table at 8 p.m. for four people at Horseback Steakhouse.”

Friedman says the sentences were developed by Toyota’s voice-recognition team so the cadence and intonation of a person’s voice, as well as how they pronounce their vowels, are understood.

The tutorials are roughly 90 seconds long and cover everything from a basic introduction to Entune to how to make calls.

Pairing a phone to Entune also has been made a simpler process, he says, taking about 30 seconds vs. 90 seconds in the system’s first generation.

The Entune App Suite also continues to expand, with a recent addition being Slacker Radio.

Friedman says while Toyota can tell how many people download a certain app, it doesn’t keep a close watch on how often they are being used.

“We don’t want to intrude on customer privacy so we try to limit how much data we collect on the consumer side,” he says.

A 2014 study of consumers’ use of smartphone apps by U.K. research firm Ofcom found more than two-thirds of apps downloaded were rarely opened.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com

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