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You climb into a Honda Civic and a motion detector sees that you are not wearing a seatbelt. Seems like a simple problem for AI to resolve. The car might know, based on previous driving patterns, that you always drive for a bit before clicking, but maybe you could set an option that the car won’t even start unless you (or one of your teen drivers) are all fastened up. Ford does have a system that works a bit like this and is related to seatbelts, but I’m talking about an AI that adapts to how you drive, knows what you normally do, and acts on your behalf.

Modern cars don’t really monitor driver behavior that much, unless you count the attention monitoring in some cars. Even that is fairly rudimentary and not that accurate — in a few Mercedes-Benz cars I’ve tested, the technology is supposed to show you an icon for a coffee cup that encourages you to take a break, and it looks for erratic steering and tracks how long you’ve been behind the wheel, but I’ve had the alert chime after driving only a couple of hours.

In the future, AI could do much more than show us a coffee cup. The 2017 Ford F-350 I’m driving this week has multiple high-tech features, but I’m hoping they evolve even further. For example, if I’m hooking up a trailer in the back of the vehicle and I’ve connected all of the cables and safety chains, then climb into the cab, the truck could easily show me the camera view for the trailer (or I could disable that option). It’s the first thing you do every time — click the camera button, check the view from the truck bed. Ironically, this scenario is closer than you think. The Ford F-350 already has an alert system called the Smart Trailer Tow Module that warns you if there’s a tow issue. An AI would go further and walk me through making better connections.

Taking this to another level, AI in cars could become like a driving assistant. Let’s say you always go to Caribou Coffee in the morning. Today, Google Maps can already determine your home address by monitoring where you drive, but an AI could watch for way more patterns — it could tell you there’s a special at Starbucks or that you have a reward. It could connect to a parking system if you’re going downtown and reserve a spot automatically.

As you drive, an AI could note when there’s someone pulled over at the same spot on a highway week after week, something you haven’t tracked because you’re too busy eating donuts. It could show a subtle alert on screen reminding you to slow down. With the adaptive cruise control enabled, it could even slow down for you. You might not even notice.

This AI in cars is possible today, but development is desperately behind. The sensors are already in the car, and the AI programming is already available. One reason it’s not happening yet is simply because the car companies have decided not to add these features. It’s certainly not a cost issue, although they probably would want to test and retest an AI for safety reasons.

Speaking of safety, an AI could provide a ton of assistance here. Cars today have a feature that prevents the rear door locks from unlocking, but you have to push the button. An AI could detect the size of the passengers, know they’re kids, and enable the lock function for you. If you have a baby on board and don’t quite latch the car seat straps correctly, an AI could detect that something is wrong.

Some of these features are likely in the works, and maybe they are already in a car. What’s missing is an AI similar to Alexa or Siri that runs in the car and communicates with you, in the car and on your phone, about all issues related to entertainment, safety, and other factors. The AI would monitor all functions of the car, tell you about repairs — basically do all of the work.

All we would have to do is get in and drive. Eventually, even that will be automated.


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