Smartphones are wonderful gadgets, but as much as they make our lives easier, they can also make our lives more dangerous. Distracted driving is on the rise and one of the culprits is the smartphone. Nissan developed a unique way to combat the problem.
Nissan calls it the Signal Shield and it’s a new application of a very old technology – the Faraday cage. Named after scientist Michael Faraday who invented it back in 1836, a Faraday cage uses an enclosure to block electromagnetic fields.
You can see Faraday cages at many science museums where dramatic demonstrations show how they work. Picture a human-size birdcage covered with mesh. Open the door and insert one willing audience participant. Zap the cage with dramatic bolts of electricity and, despite appearances, the person inside does not end up fried.
The Nissan Signal Shield blocks signals using a little Faraday cage in the center armrest. This time, instead of bolts of electricity, the Faraday cage blocks signals. All you have to do is put your phone in the armrest and shut the lid.
It will block any incoming or outgoing cellular transmission, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi connections effectively forcing the driver to ignore the phone while behind the wheel. It’s a very old idea solving a very new problem.
There are some challenges to the Signal Shield, which Nissan is showing as a prototype in the Juke. As with anything designed to help stop distracted driving, the driver has to be willing to use the technology.
Even if we all had signal-blocking armrests, there’s no way to guarantee we’ll actually use them and pop our phones inside when we drive. There’s also nothing to stop us from opening that armrest back up on a whim.
What this can do, however, is reduce the temptation. Hearing your phone buzz or seeing a text message pop up makes it hard to ignore. Remove that temptation and the chance a person will use their phone while driving is reduced.
There’s also the problem of our expectations of smartphone integration in our cars. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto let drivers connect their phones to their vehicles for a hands-free experience that reduces distraction while still allowing key functions. Navigation, for example, is something we’ve all come to rely on and we often use our phones for the job.
The technology is merely a prototype right now, so don’t expect your local Nissan dealer to offer a Faraday cage armrest. For now, put your phone out of reach if you can’t avoid the dangerous temptation to text and drive.