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Sam Asano's Let's Invent: Verifying the size and need of your potential market

February 16. 2014 4:12PM

LET'S LOOK at the potential market for a device that would enhibit drivers from texting while driving.

There are 240 million vehicles registered in the United States today. If a law is enacted to prohibit texting while driving (TWD) in a truly strict sense, then it is obvious that all 240 million vehicles will be covered under the law.

In a simplified observation, 240 million systems of some sort will have to be installed in the vehicles.

The way amateur inventors get sucked into this kind of mega size calculation is very simple: 240 million vehicle times $10 per vehicle is $2.4 billion in the total market dimension. I assumed that such a system might cost $10 per vehicle in a large scale production.

With that observation in mind, now let's look for available solutions in the market place. I have found three offerings so far.

Case 1 — A group of six teenage inventors called Theinventioneers from Londonderry has developed a steering wheel attachment called Smart-Wheel, which tracks driver's hand position. It detects if two hands are properly located, (10 a.m. and 2 p.m.) or one hand is not holding the wheel for an extended period of time etc. The system generates light and sound warning. (Visit This group has generated a lot of interest, and President Obama has seen the demonstration.

Case 2 — DriveID by CellControl. This device is interesting in that it uses a separate controller that sticks to the car's windshield. Each iPhone must download an app from the manufacturer. The controller detects where a particular iPhone is located, and prevents texting or phone conversation of the phone at the driver's seat. It works with iPhone only, and thus has a limited use.

Case 3 — This author proposes a system built-in with all automobile. The system is theoretically failsafe, and covers all aspects of TWD uses. It prevents the driver from using a cellphone for texting. All other passengers sitting in the car are free to use their phones in any mode available including texting. The driver can text only when the car is PARKED with the transmission gear lever at PARK or car is shut off. In case of an emergency such as a severe collision with driver unable to get out, the built-in accelerometer detects the collision impact, and disables the cellphone lock. (See FIG 3.)

I assume that the above three cases are not all the developments available or discussed in the United States today. Cases 1 and 2 are already available. Case 3 is just a concept, and far from being available even though it is a failsafe system that covers all contingencies.

My private opinion about Case 1 is that it works only when the driver drives with his/her hands on the correct positions of the steering wheel 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. As a deterrent this system may be overcome by many drivers who are addicted to TWD. Drivers may take the product off the steering wheel, and not use it. Or for that matter, they may drive with some clamps at the correct hand position, and do TWD.

Case 2 only works with iPhones. However, the main flaw is that the driver can take the controller box from the windshield off, and disable the system all together. I maintain that TWD is a fast addiction. People have hard time not responding to an incoming text even though they know the message is never urgent. "Howdy?", "What Are You Doing?" etc.

Case 3 is what I have proposed a few month ago. FIG 3. TWD is a very serious safety hazard, which not only endangers the driver and passengers, but also the driver and passengers of the oncoming car as well. DWI in recent years has somewhat diminished because of the stiff penalty of losing your drivers's license imposed by law enforcement. Losing your driver's license is probably the most effective means of reducing DWI. The central cause of TWD is strong addiction; therefore any system design that allows drivers to disable the system is pointless and will continue to case accidents.

One of the strict boundary conditions is that the proposed system cannot be disabled by the driver, except in case of an accident that traps the driver unable to get out the car. This system is being proposed as an example of patent application process. The system requires that all cars and commercial vehicles be equipped with the infrared beam shower that can communicate with the cell phones held in the hand of driver. This system has to be built-in the car when it is manufactured. Since no auto manufacturers would voluntarily build such a system in to the cars, the government must request it just like the case of installation of airbags. Today all passenger cars are manufactured with seatbelts and airbags. This wouldn't have happened without the federal government's intervention. If the government decides to insist on installing the infrared communicator on top of the driver's seat, the TWD casualty rate, currently suspected to kill 5,000 people a year, will most certainly diminish to near zero. However, I must admit this solution would take a large effort and patience to succeed.

Assessing the size of the market for Cases 1 and 2 is difficult at best. These two systems can be disabled freely by the users, and thus impossible to assess the real need to buy. Any drivers who can discipline themselves not to TWD don't need to buy such a system, while anybody who is addicted would disable the system to do TWD. This negates the compelling reason to purchase it. Our proposed Case 3 system cannot be disabled while the car is moving. There is no way it can be disabled by the driver, and other passengers are free to do TWD or phonecalls. The system would disable itself in case of accident.

Shintaro "Sam" Asano of New Castle, who speaks and writes English as a second language, was named by MIT in 2011 as one of the 10 most influential inventors of the 20th century who improved our life. He is a businessman and an inventor in the field of electronics and mechanical systems, who is credited as the original inventor of today's portable fax machine. He also developed a data tablet used in the retail point of sale to capture customer signatures when credit cards are used. Write to him at

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