Someday, and sooner than we think, driving a car may be more and more something the car does while you sit back and be entertained.
Autonomous driving has been in the pipeline for years and, in the way of tech development, will happen sooner or later.
Computers, Bobby is afraid, are developing to the point where they can make better decisions than us.
The underlying idea behind AI (Artificial Intelligence) is that computers can process a whole bunch more data than we can, and computers don’t make mistakes, so when it comes to making important decisions, it’s way better to trust the machine.
AI is here already and is quite naturally finding its way into our cars. At a recent expo in Las Vegas, called the Consumer Electronics Show, firms showcased some of the cutting-edge tech focusing on enhancing driver experience.
Let’s face it, the car is a place we spend much contented time, so why not make it even better. Of course, there are those of us who don’t see the point in the extras and are more than happy with a V8, a full tank, and the natural feel of power to the road.
Anyhow, here’s some of the new tech that will bring people’s digital life to the cabbie. The car becomes a place to live, work and communicate. For instance, Byton, a Chinese-based electric carmaker, showcased a sedan sporting a 48-inch (that’s right, flatscreen width) display panel that stretches the width of the dash.
Passengers can watch movies, check messages and interact, though the carmaker stresses that the full array of services will not be offered while someone is driving.
Good thing that Bobby’s Spidey sense was saying that sounds like a way too dangerous set-up when moving at speed. That said, when the car learns to drive itself, the super dash will come into full use.
It gets more interesting, Byton will use facial recognition to customise riders’ experience, remembering what you like and recommend music and movies accordingly. It can even keep track of your eating likes and dislikes, and recommend restaurants along the route. All of this will work through voice, touch and gestures.
“The car could become the most important device in your digital life,” said Carsten Breitfeld, co-founder and chief executive of Byton.
“It’s all about the customer experience,” Carsten told a media event at the Las Vegas show, while noting more of the enhanced features will be used when the car is in autonomous mode or stationary.
Gawain Morrison, the co-founder of the British-based artificial intelligence start-up Sensum, takes the trend even deeper. He says: “The next generation is about how to interact with the humans. They (the cars) need an understanding about the human state at any point in the journey.”
Sensum and its auto-supplier partner Valeo showed what it called ‘empathic mobility tech’ which basically measures your feelings and comfort, and adjusts its environmental settings to suit you.
Kia calls its similar system ‘Real-time Emotion Adaptive Driving,’ or READ. The in-cabin computer analyses a driver’s emotional state by monitoring facial expressions, heart rate and electrodermal activity (the electrical conductivity of the skin, which is an indicator of a person’s emotional response).
“The system enables continuous communication between driver and vehicle through the unspoken language of ‘feeling’, thereby providing an optimal, human-sense oriented space for the driver in real-time,” said Albert Biermann, president and head of research for Kia parent Hyundai.
German auto equipment maker Continental brought a super practical invention to the show. It has developed a monitoring system that can detect if a driver is distracted or drowsy.
“You may get a visual warning, or the seat will vibrate, or the steering wheel will vibrate,” said Continental executive Heinz Abel. That’s like riding around with in-built rumble strips.
Some firms were showcasing what they called the ‘cockpit of the future’.
What Bobby picks up here is that the move from driving your car to being driven and advised is going to be challenging. It’s hard to hand over the controls.
Upton Bowden of Visteon said equipment makers would be offering a “transitional cockpit” which helps people understand what is happening in autonomous mode.
“You want the occupants to trust the system When you get into an automated vehicle you have no knowledge of that system, so you have some level of discomfort.”
The trick to moving through this period would be transparency, finding a way to show the driver just what is going on at all times.
Bowden says: “We can give you a real-time digital picture of what’s going on by taking the data and transforming it into a graphical user experience.”
But here’s the thing. Handing over the keys to your drive is a difficult thing. But judging by the way things are going, powerful computers are making more and more of the important decisions.
And that makes sense, computers never forget the data, they don’t have selective memory, they pay attention all the time, and gather more data than we could possibly have a hope of doing.
Just that puts the machine in the driver’s seat.