The Honda Dream Drive is a passenger information and entertainment experience that is meant to give us an idea of what being a car driver and a passenger will be like in the future. What Honda showed off for the first time a couple of years ago is now being tested as a way to integrate driver and passenger infotainment, commerce, services, and rewards dashboards.
It integrates both voice commands and touchscreens. I took a spin in a 2019 Honda Passport SUV recently with the prototype of Honda Dream Drive in Mountain View, California. I rode in the backseat to try out the entertainment options on an iPad, while the Connected Travel — which created the infotainment platform — and Honda team showed me how it all works.
The Honda Dream Drive’s driver dashboard is optimized for things like parking, gas payments, restaurant reservations, food ordering for pickup or delivery, ticketing, audio, location sharing, and rewards. One of the reasons Honda teamed up with Connected Travel is that car technology development often takes far longer — as much as five years — before it makes its way into new models.
“The center of it is creating experiences that enhance driving a vehicle for both drivers and passengers,” said Bryan Biniak, CEO of Connected Travel, in an interview with VentureBeat. “You can do this with voice and using the data that is available in the vehicle telematics. Then, you fuse it with things like weather or mapping, and that gives you the ability to create mixed-reality experiences.”
Through the Connected Travel company, Honda collaborated with Atom Tickets, Chevron U.S.A., The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Grubhub, Glympse, iHeartRadio, IPS Group, Arrive, Parkopedia, Phillips 66, Yelp, and USAA. Connected Travel did the work to integrate all those services into the experience.
For Honda Dream Drive’s passenger dashboard, Honda collaborated with AAA, DC, Entercom/Radio.com, the Lego Group, Silvergate Media and the Octonauts team, and Univision Music.
Since 2016, Honda has worked with Visa to build and enhance the in-vehicle payment experience to make payments more convenient and secure. Now, Honda is expanding its in-vehicle payment collaboration to include Mastercard and PayPal.
“In the future, the car is going to be an arcade,” said Biniak. “It’s going to be a theater. It’s going to be a classroom. It’s going to be an office. As a passenger, as long as you have your seatbelt on, there are all sorts of amazing things you can do. That’s where we started.”
A gamified experience
Connected Travel created a platform that gives you rewards for using the car’s services. You connect your iPad or iPhone to the vehicle’s Wi-Fi network. Connected Travel’s platform can track how much you use the platform, and so, for every minute you are connected, you earn five points on the platform.
The passenger can control the rear heating and air conditioning system on the iPad. An activity stream shows the activities the rest of your family have been doing in the car experience. It has a leaderboard to show who is using the system the most.
These points aren’t just for showing off. You can redeem them for goods and services at more than 50 brick and mortar as well as online retailers. Passengers and drivers are rewarded with points for everyday driving, listening, watching, learning, and transacting with retailers, including Amazon, Walmart, Target, Whole Foods, Macys, AMC Theatres, Bed Bath & Beyond, Burger King, Dominos, iHop, Petco, Regal Cinemas, Staples, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, TGI Fridays, and other major brands.
In-vehicle passenger entertainment is available from Lego, DC Comics, and The Octonauts for the Dream Drive platform. The Octonauts is a mixed-reality experience, where you can play games to help save the ocean. In The Octonauts game, real-life buildings are represented by coral reefs, and the game’s characters move with the vehicle. As the car moves so too does the game’s virtual world. That’s because the telematics of the car and the game are linked. As the car moves, you pick up pieces of trash from the ocean floor in the game.
“You can blend reality and fantasy together with the car data,” Biniak said.
The apps on the platform are curated for driving trips. Honda Dream Drive experiences include a selection of mixed-reality games that are integrated with vehicle telematics and interact with original comics and travel applications tuned to explore destinations along the route, all while engaging in the rewards experience directly from the passenger’s mobile device.
Working with Lego, Connected Travel created a Pokémon Go-style game. As you drive around, the map of the world shows up on your iPad. Different points of interest are available. You can play mini games and collect bricks in order to earn mini-figures from the Lego collection. I got a little obsessed with this app while on my ride.
Connected Travel also worked with DC Comics to create a custom comic reader for the car. You can see cool animations with the digital comics, and the surroundings could be tied into a storyline. It can show you different images based on your surroundings. Most of the comic app is offline. As you play all of these apps, you always earn points.
Minimizing driver distraction
Of course, if the car gets into any emergency situation, the infotainment screen isn’t a priority. For safety reasons, the car’s safety system can override anything happening on the lesser-priority platform.
The driver experience uses a proprietary voice-controlled user interface, with a custom agent based on Google Dialog Flow technology. That allowed Honda to use “Hana” as its invocation word, instead of Siri or OK Google. It has a smaller universe of recognized commands, but they are geared toward driving situations. That makes it better for driving than some other voice services.
While driving, you can use your voice to search, make reservations on services like Yelp, order and purchase takeout from the nearest restaurant, or find the cheapest price for gas in your surroundings. You can say, “OK Hana, find parking.” The system then looks for parking garages near the destination you’re driving to.
Drivers are able to safely find and pay for goods and services, such as fuel, food, coffee, movie tickets, and parking. The driver showed a scenario where they found a cheap Rotten Robbie gas station, pulled up to the pump, and paid for the gas with the Honda Pay platform.
The technology also learns and understands driving behaviors helping to incentivize and reward safer, more mindful driving. Insurance provider USAA is developing a safety-coaching application for drivers while they’re in a vehicle. It aims to increase safe-driving behavior by providing incentives. You get a score on speeding, phone handling, and braking.
If you do a good job, you get a better score. During the challenges, driver scores improved 40 percent. But drivers learned things about their own behavior. One driver touched a phone 40 times during a trip. The USAA app made the person realize it. It’s not meant to punish the driver with higher rates for bad driving habits.
If you share your contacts or calendar, the platform can recommend places along your route that you might want to check out. Some of these services are still in development.
Machine learning for cars
Connected Travel’s proprietary AI and machine learning technology supports highly personalized infotainment and commerce services for each driver and passenger’s unique daily driving routines, providing highly curated, contextually connected vehicle experiences.
Some of these customizations aren’t brilliant since we tend to do things over and over. If you order food on Grubhub, you might get the same thing over and over. The app can give you the option of ordering the same thing again from the car.
But other customizations are smarter. For instance, if you always drive for 15 minutes every morning to drop the kids off at school, Connected Travel can tailor the missions in The Octonauts to last 15 minutes, so your kids can complete the mission during the drive to school. But if you’re on a road trip for 400 miles, the game will stretch out the experience as needed.
“After a while, it gets routine and boring, so we want to bring some adventure to those everyday travels,” Biniak said. “Now, they can be somewhat memorable.”
And if you are watching a trailer, you can earn points for that. You can see the showtimes for the movie associated with that trailer, and you can purchase tickets for the movie from within the application. If you get out of a car, you can continue watching a show that you started in a car, and Connected Travel can give you 50 more points for completing it. If you want to redeem rewards, you can use a QR code and scan that at the retailer.
Connected Travel makes this platform available to car makers on a software-as-a-service basis. It is working with outside companies, and so far, it has collected 300 different application programming interfaces (APIs) that could be used in car-related programming.
Honda Dream Drive is being built by Connected Travel and Honda Innovations, an accelerator in Silicon Valley. The companies have been collaborating for a couple of years. They did a carpool karaoke experience with characters from the film Trolls in virtual reality on the HTC Vive VR headset. They decided to focus on experiences that were ready to do now.
Of course, this system only works well if you have a good internet connection. If you’re driving in some place where you can’t get that connection, then the fun will suffer. Connected Travel preloads some data ahead of time, but the mapping data has to come in via real-time connections. Once 5G wireless broadband arrives, the connectivity for cars should get a lot better.
“You get rewards for flying planes and staying in hotels,” said Biniak. “Why not get rewards for driving in your car?”
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