In the near future, your phone might be smart enough to know whether you are driving a car, or going along for the ride.

Anti-distraction software by a tech startup called Cellepathy would automatically go into a restrictive “driver mode” when a phone is within a moving vehicle. Online features such as texts, video, games and social media would be blocked, as well as some or all nonemergency telephone calls.

Your cellphone is like an airplane’s black box. It contains a compass, a gyroscope, an accelerometer and GPS tracking.

Using those features and the software, vehicle passengers could perform a verification task, lasting seven seconds or less, to unlock all the apps in “passenger mode.” For instance, they would hold a phone level and type in a series of numbers.

Cellepathy co-founder Dan Abramson recently moved from Tel Aviv to the Seattle area, where he says the company will recruit engineers. The pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca in Israel and some European firms are requiring employees to use Cellepathy, which he said has begun to market to customers in North America.

“Our contribution to the world is our ability to differentiate between drivers and passengers,” he says, a useful goal until self-driving cars someday rule the road.

“We can prevent a lot of deaths, injuries and tragedies over the next 40 years, and if we can make an honest wage for our efforts, that’s great.”

Apple announced earlier this month its “Do Not Disturb While Driving” mode, to be installed in iOS 11 software this fall. Once a phone owner has chosen this mode, the iPhone would know when it’s in a moving car and automatically reply to an incoming call or message: “I’ll see your message when I get where I’m going.”

Cellepathy-equipped phones would automatically go into driver mode when a car moves, unlike Apple’s feature, which is voluntary. No law now requires a driver’s phone to be disabled. Device makers oppose any government guidelines or mandates that call for software that automatically locks phones in moving cars.

“Ultimately, this is a behavioral problem,” said Jamie Boone, government affairs director for the Consumer Technology Association. “There are tons of different distraction problems. Daydreaming, eating, putting on your makeup.”

Cellepathy is marketing to companies that seek to improve safety and avoid liability for employees who drive on the job. That applies not only to fleets, but traveling salespeople, or anyone using private cars to deliver food or packages.

Employers can order settings to allow calls, such as those to and from the boss. Calls to 911 would not be restricted. Employers typically allow finger or voice-activated maps, and music apps. Employers could configure Cellepathy software to either allow or block hands-free calls via Bluetooth, Abramson said.

Cellepathy is developed for Android phones and being beta-tested on Apple products, according to Abramson.


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