In the future, your car will become more like a personal assistant.
That’s already a reality for drivers who sync their phone using Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. You can talk to Siri and ask questions as you drive, but the assistant remains blissfully unaware of simple car functions — like whether you are running out of gas.
In the near term, bots will be able to connect to diagnostic equipment and walk you through a simple fix. For example, if you’re running low on oil, a bot could explain which oil to use, show a picture of where to add some in the engine, and then set a new reminder about a future oil change and even schedule the appointment for you.
Ford is already thinking about these topics, and the automaker plans to make an announcement at MWC about some new advancements in connected cars. The company hinted at a future where you can ask the car to find a route for you that’s not so congested, even if it takes longer; one where connectivity with a local retailer helps you discover if the product you want is actually in stock; and one in which you can talk in a way that is much more like a real conversation (and in your own language and dialect).
The next step is to make a bot help us drive better. One early sign of how this could work is the Automatic device, which added a driver training feature a few years ago. It can monitor how you drive — looking for jack-rabbit starts and hard braking. An AI could do much more than that.
What I’m envisioning is a bot that watches how you drive and provides helpful tips, but only if you opt in and want the assistance. You’d turn it on in the same way you’d use adaptive cruise control. The car would be ever vigilant. It might only say something when there is a dire emergency — to brake because someone on a bike is heading in your direction. Or it might let you know when you’re hitting the gas too hard. This should be data driven. The bot might tell you some complex calculations — your MPG is now 5 points lower on average.
This might seem annoying, but my sense is that we’re getting used to bots talking to us. Alexa is already a chatterbox in my office, and so is the Google Home speaker in my bedroom. Ford recently noted how bots could even help us on an emotional level. In the car, a bot could see that we’re agitated and suggest a local restaurant and even offer a discount (based on “discussing” your situation with a bot from the restaurant). Ford has mentioned how future cars might use more microphones and speakers to alert us and listen to us. I could see a bot adjusting the speaker volume so we can hear a siren approaching, or even paying attention more closely to breathing patterns and eye movements to detect stress. A bot could sit idle most of the time, but speak up when there are things that will help us drive better, more safely, and without as much distraction.
Of course, the bot itself might be a distraction. The key is to make sure the technology is available at all times, optional, and easy to disable. There should be a button that’s as easy to find as the volume or the heat, and the bot should be mostly available to answer questions. Now the trick is to see if this is something the car companies can develop internally or if a partner needs to emerge who can help us — not just from an app standpoint but with direct tie-ins to the vehicle.