The Future of Front Seat Video in Motion

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Front Seat Video in Motion in Future

You may have heard that Mercedes-Benz is now offering in the US, the first semi-autonomous vehicles that don’t require eyes-on-the-road under certain circumstances.  This is already stirring up debate around unlocking front seat video in the car under limited conditions.

Mercedes has won SAE approval to allow Level 3 driving in the states of California and Nevada. Mercedes drivers may take their eyes off the road, freeing them to read or do other tasks, as long as they are ready to resume traditional driving when prompted.

Level 3 differs from current Level 2 systems, say Tesla’s Fully Self Driving (FSD) or GM’s Super Cruise or Ford’s BlueCruise.  These other systems let drivers take their hands off the wheel, but they still must must have eyes-on-the-road and be ready to brake.

Analyst Roger Lanctot of Strategia Now says once drivers are legally allowed to take their eyes off the road they will want to watch video and perform other tasks.  You can imagine that drivers might take out their phones and watch video of some kind with this type of vehicle, he said. So OEMs may unlock video under certain circumstances. And that could happen as early as two or three years from now.

In fact, a Mercedes commercial below shows a driver watching what appears to be a golf tournament.

“That is the direction of the market… Almost every car maker has an equivalent to GM’s super Cruise, so Level 2 is firmly established. It’s just a little further evolution to Level 3,” said Lanctot. With that, he believes the OEMs will provide an option for entertainment while driving such as video or gaming.  “We’re crossing a threshold to video in the front seat.”

Others, including Greg Delgado of GCH Automotive said it’s possible that CarPlay and Android Auto might eventually permit video from apps such as Netflix and Hulu under certain conditions in a few years for certain Level 3 vehicles.

EV analyst Steve Greenfield disagrees. “For the mid- to long-term, we’re going to have ‘edge cases’ [instances where an autonomous car fails to size up the road properly] that confuse the car and thus the human occupant is going to need to be ready to step in to take control and intervene. So I don’t think we’re going to get to the point anytime soon where a human can be distracted by getting immersed in video programs on the main screen in the cabin. This sounds very dangerous to me. And it will only take one catastrophic incident where the driver isn’t prepared to intervene within a split second that will create enough negative PR/lawsuits that we’ll be back to status quo.”

Greenfield adds, “I think the leap to Level 4/5 may actually (and ironically) be easier than implementing Level 3 autonomy.”

NHTSA, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration issued in 2013 Driver Distraction Guidelines  that list “displaying video not related to driving” as one of the top “activities considered to inherently interfere with a driver’s ability to safely operate the vehicle.”

Note: Following a NHTSA investigation, Tesla issued a software update in late 2021 that removed the ability of the driver to be in view of gaming on the car screen while driving. But these were not Level 3 vehicles.

Mercedes’ Level 3 approval is authorized only at speeds under 40 mph, and again, only in California and Nevada.  Mercedes began offering the capability recently in the US in its EQS series and S-Series.

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