BMW Infotainment Screens Will Turn Off If Drivers Don't Watch The Road

Patents and Trademarks / 9 Comments

BMW wants to rely on "social pressure from the other occupants" to keep drivers focused.

As more of our lives become digitalized, BMW is working on ways to prevent drivers becoming distracted by occupants of a vehicle watching videos or browsing the internet on the infotainment screens.

A new patent unearthed by CarBuzz and filed by the DPMA (Germany's intellectual property authority) shows how BMW will rely on peer pressure to keep drivers focused by temporarily switching off the infotainment screen if the driver's focus shifts from the road to the infotainment.

The premise is simple: a camera tracks the driver's eye movements, and if they are caught looking in a predefined region that is not deemed necessary for the vehicle's safe operation - such as glancing across to the passenger side of the BMW iX - then the infotainment screen will switch off for a short period. BMW believes that when a passenger tries to watch something, and the screen keeps switching off, the passenger will hold the driver accountable.


Various solutions are proposed, with the screen going blank being the most extreme. BMW also proposes alternatives like dimming the brightness or reducing the sharpness of the video to create a fuzzy image they are unable to watch. However, as these changes may be perceived as a faulty infotainment system, there are less invasive ways of notifying passengers of the driver's averted gaze.

You know when you're on a flight, and the pilot starts speaking? The screen in front of you pauses, and a message appears on the screen to say a pilot's announcement is in progress. BMW proposes something similar, alerting passengers that the driver is not paying attention.


As for the audio, this could either continue - heightening the frustration for the viewer - or be paused with the video.

While the intention of such a patent is noble, we can't help but feel it won't solve the problem. In our experience, it's more likely to result in endless arguments as adolescents take offense to their parents continually checking up on their viewing or browsing habits.

We've seen other embodiments of similar tech that we feel work better. Continental developed a system that could prevent the driver from watching the screen. In flipping a switch on the dash, a privacy mode would be activated that blurs the view of the content when viewed from any other angle besides straight-on. When parked, the system could be turned off, and all occupants could watch the screen perfectly.


Another company called Visteon developed similar tech that would make the screen appear black to the driver only. Mercedes is utilizing similar tech in the new Superscreen infotainment dashboard for the 2024 E-Class, combining cameras to enable the passenger display to be dimmed slightly.

BMW's is less complex and cheaper to implement, but its efficacy may also vary. Using social pressure to keep the driver focused is novel, but we cannot help but feel that permanently disabling the driver's view of the passenger screen is a better solution.

Privacy overlays have become commonplace on smartphones and tablets, which prevent viewing of the screen from any other angle but dead ahead. A similar film over the passenger-side screen would be a low-cost way to achieve the same result.


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