Android Auto testing is more sophisticated than you might think

When hearing about things like Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, you might think it simply involves mirroring Android or iOS to a car's infotainment system, give or take a few functionality deemed to be dangerous or unnecessary for driving. But unlike other iterations of Android, like Android Wear or Android TV, Android Auto has far more dire consequences when implemented poorly. That is why when Nat & Lo took their web series to Google's Android Auto Research Lab, they were met by rather sophisticated equipment, including different kinds of sensors and, of course, a driving simulator.

Since Android Auto should be safe to use when driving, Google's researchers have to design the interface to make sure that they don't become dangerous distractions to drivers. And to do that, they have to study the very nature of driver distraction itself. That's where all the contraptions come in.

Researchers identify three different kinds of driving distractions and have different sensors and tests for each one. Visual distraction is perhaps the most known kind, when drivers have to devote more than a few seconds of their focus on anything other than the road. For this type, test drivers wear specially designed glasses that have cameras facing inwards that record eye movement and focus as well as cameras that look where the user is also looking. These help determine when and where the driver glances off the road.

There's also cognitive distraction, which is more mental than others. What is tested here is how well a driver's brain can react to external stimuli, like a buzzer, when preoccupied by other tasks, like looking for a name in a contact list or a title from a music collection. And finally, there is manual distraction, where our hands have to move to manipulate controls, like touch screens.

Google boasts that Android Auto is in already over 100 car models in the market. Of course, that's still just a small fraction but car makers have promised last year that adoption of Android Auto will be in full swing in 2016.