The 2017 Audi A4 Allroad talks to you. And it has something important to say.
During my recent test, the car sensed when my iPhone was still connected to the USB port. A voice reminded me to take my phone with me.
Admittedly, it’s a minor feature on a car that is equipped with multiple safety sensors, including one that adjusts your speed for the car in front of you and shows an alert if you get too close in traffic. Yet the surprise for me is that this is the first car I’ve tested that shows signs of greater awareness about my needs as a driver…when I’m not even driving.
You can see how this could evolve. A car can be a mobile computer on wheels, and I’m surprised in many ways that it hasn’t become more advanced. A car could have an Xbox One built-in, a 4K surround-sound video entertainment system, it could let passengers in the backseat process a movie using a high-end video editing app, it could be a server to hold our files and share them over a high-speed cellular connection. You can always bring a laptop with you, but a car could provide processing power and larger screens to help passengers do real work as you drive. I’m sure this is coming, as cars start driving themselves and we think of other ways to stay productive on a commute or a long drive in the country.
For now, the Allroad is essentially reminding me that life exists outside of the driver’s seat. Eventually, your car could also tell you about meetings you have coming up, let you ask about the weather for your destination, and give you a quick synopsis of the news and sports you care about the most. And I hope it isn’t Alexa or Google Assistant running on your phone, because I could see Audi or other brands developing their own assistant that also tells you about road conditions, faster routes — anything that will help you become a better driver and engage in a dialogue with you.
It won’t be that difficult, either. The Allroad knows when you have connected your phone. And if you leave the car, it doesn’t make sense to keep your phone connected. That’s not rocket science. An AI helper in an Audi could also learn how you drive, where you drive, and what you care about. It could easily adapt based on your music choices, suggesting when your favorite bands are playing live near your route. With your permission, it could monitor which websites you visit, your GPS route, and other personalization, and then provide more relevant information.
This “brain” would be similar to Alexa but tied more directly to the car. The car would know where you are at all times when you drive. Safety sensors are great, but the car could use other sensors, like facial recognition and cameras, to know who is in the car. If you stop at a grocery store, the car could interface with the store and scan your receipt, letting you know if you forgot the milk. Your car could report on your location and other factors so you don’t have to text about your plans.
Cars already have the processing power required for adaptive cruise control and some level of autonomous driving, like keeping you in your lane. It wouldn’t be a Herculean step for the Allroad to start talking to you about more than forgetting your phone.