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.

Sources: Smack Attack, Kickstarter

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    Paul Ridden

    While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag.

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    • To be banned shortly in CA.

      Rolf Hawkins
    • As a great man once said, there's a fine line between clever and stupid.

      Jon A.
    • This looks like a lot of fun. I would buy one today...so maybe I crossed that line between clever and stupid? I drive a LOT and this would be a great gift for someone like me.

    • My I suggest audio books instead.

    • I would love to have Smack Attack, I don't like to drive more than an hour alone, cause it is hard for me to stay alert . I think this invention can really help me, and I wouldn't mind driving long distances alone if I had it. Some people say that you should just keep two hands on the wheel and don't say anything in order to keep your total concentration on driving. In reality, this can get very monotonous and sometimes I don't even know how far I have gone or if I missed my exit. I am glad to finally know that I am not alone in this experience, and that it has a name- highway hypnosis.

    • @Rolf Hawkins

      I didn't decide to be a steering wheel drummer, I was born that way.

    • This could be a pleasant and not too diverting diversion. Certainly safer than using a set of drumsticks on the inside of your vehicle whilst tooling down the road (like Highway 37 near Travis AFB) and steering with your knees. (I'm talkin' to YOU Gadzuki, but it's been a while and you are probably older and wiser now). I wonder if the "other sounds" that will be available will let the driver channel their inner Stevie Ray. Maybe that would be WAY too distracting.

      Bruce H. Anderson
    • How come there is no video demo'ing this?? Stupid!

      Mercy Baron
    • becuase thats what we need more of, horric traffic accidents caused by people not paying attention

      Ben Mackay
    • Those who need a drum kit to stay alert behind the wheel for an hour should get more sleep, seek medical attention or alternative transportation methods. The other question I have is why not have steering wheel pianos and steering wheel guitars? Heck why limit to musical instruments? I'd love to make breakfast or get dinner ready on my commute with a steering wheel based coffee maker, sandwich maker and stove. Come to think of it, I find it hard to find time to get to the gym. We should have a steering wheel based exercise system.

    • One of our clients wanted us to develop this concept 20 years ago. We stayed away from it because we felt it would be distracting and encourage hands-off driving. Very dangerous!!

      Maybe if it had a motion sensor so it works only when you are not moving?? Maybe.

    • As stated, I have to think it will be banned, but only if it takes off. I have made the same argument that stuff like this keeps drivers awake, but I don't think it's smart to try to monetize this. The first accident involving a smack-attack will raise questions and expose the manufacturers to liability.

    • @cfg83. I think you're right. However when that accident occurs, some smart arse lawyer will tell his client to blame the Smart Attack, that could get the driver off a bad driving charge. Also, if a court did accept that this device could have contributed to an accident, then that driver might be free to pursue a claim against the makers of Smart Attack. Bloody lawyers, stupid judges.


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