If you get regularly get caught in standstill traffic during your daily commute, Smack Attack could be for you. Pounding your fists on the steering wheel cover's eight touch sensors produces drum sounds over the top of whatever music you're listening to from your iPhone's music library. While it may look like something of a dangerous distraction, its inventor claims that it could actually help prevent accidents by keeping drivers stimulated and alert.
Gregor Hanuschak says that he got the inspiration for Smack Attack during a trip across the US, where he often found himself having trouble staying alert. He found the lack of stimulation during long drives could result in a trance-like state, but managed to keep white line fever at bay by tapping away on the wheel to his favorite tunes.
"Researchers are finding the best way to fight highway hypnosis is with auditory and tactile stimulation and that definitely lines up with my observations," he told us. "I've had some success staying alert by listening to music on its own and slightly more success by hitting my steering wheel with the music, but just hearing a steady thump of the wheel can get stale after a while and I stop doing it."
In November 2007, he filed a patent for a steering wheel-based music generation system, which was subsequently approved in 2010. A few prototypes later, and the Smack Attack RITW (Re-Inventing The Wheel) steering wheel cover is being prepared for commercial availability.
Hanuschak says that the cover will fit any steering wheel, and features eight color-coded smack sensors, each making a different drum sound when tapped. It slides over the steering wheel, is secured in place with straps and then turned on. The device is powered by a small, user-replaceable lithium battery, and communicates with an iPhone over Bluetooth. The smartphone runs an associated app that can also make other sounds available to the system, should you tire of the supplied drum sounds.
The drum kit noises sound over the top of whatever music you're playing from your iPhone's music library. There's also a solo performance option that turns off music playback. Output can be via a mini speaker or through a vehicle's audio system courtesy of an FM transmitter. If your car audio has a line-in jack, the iPhone can also be plugged in directly and, if you'd rather no-one witnessed your inner Cozy Powell running riot, you can always connect some headphones.
Features being added to the system include the ability to download songs with the drum parts removed, and to record a performance for personal enjoyment or upload to the online community. Should you discover that there are other Smack Attack users in your line of static traffic, the system will allow you to invite them to join your drum party. Players who don't have a wheel cover can also join in by tapping keys on the iPhone screen.
While the system is doubtless effective at keeping the minds of steering wheel tappers stimulated, we asked Hanuschak if all that distraction was a safety concern.
"I had a couple people make the analogy that this is like texting while driving, but it's really not at all," he said. "I've found (and most would agree) that tapping on your steering wheel with one hand like this does not require your full attention and definitely does not distract from watching the road. Obviously texting requires you to look away from the road and that behavior is a completely different beast entirely."
"People must be aware of driving conditions and act responsibly," he added. "You don't take a sip of your coffee when you're taking an exit, play with/look at your GPS when you're trying to switch lanes, or adjust your radio/climate control while making a sharp turn."
Hanuschak is set to launch on Kickstarter in a few days. A pledge of US$99 will secure a Smack Attack wheel cover and iPhone app (projected retail value of $149). Bumping that up to $225 will get you the full package, including a mini speaker and a carrying case. The campaign target has been set at $200,000 and, assuming a successful outcome, delivery has been estimated for December.
Update 04/21/13: The Kickstarter campaign is now live, watch the pitch video below.
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