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Connected cars: in-car virtual personal assistants

Connected cars: in-car virtual personal assistants

“Alexa, what will the weather be like tomorrow?” has become a commonplace sentence. Voice-enabled virtual personal assistants (VPAs) are in our phones and increasingly in our homes. Disconnecting entirely, even while driving, isn’t an option for some. So, having your hands and eyes occupied makes driving the optimal time to use a VPA. These systems allow you to stay connected and productive, but still safe when on the road.

The automotive industry is making leaps towards convenience and connectivity in cars with the help of VPAs. A rapidly growing number of consumers are already habitually using voice assistants in cars, and auto makers are continuing to invest in creating better user experiences.

According to Voicebot’s report, the monthly active voice assistant usage rate is actually higher for in-car users than for smart speaker users. Despite the number of active users being so high, the usage of these systems has primarily centred around three relatively simple tasks. The first is controlling in-car features, the second is providing navigation information and the third is initiating phone calls.

However, many VPAs are capable of more complex communication tasks, including answering questions and accessing entertainment, but they can also be programmed to carry out practical tasks, like controlling the on-board lighting and cooling systems and consequently alerting drivers to maintenance requirements. There is therefore an immense opportunity for the improvement of the in-car experience for consumers.

Automotive specialised assistance
Leading original equipment manufacturers like Daimler, Hyundai, Honda, PSA, and BMW already have, or are actively working on integrated, sophisticated, voice-enabled infotainment systems that help drivers access a wide range of services, without compromising safety on the road. An automotive VPA that has a deep understanding of the vehicle is better suited to meet the needs of a driver, while ensuring the safety of the passengers inside. Other companies are also closing in on this market with, for example, Amazon’s release of a car-specific version of its popular voice assistant, the Echo Auto.

A unique feature of virtual personal assistants designed for in-car use is that these systems can learn specific driver behaviour, such as seat heating preferences, preferred routes and popular addresses and operate the vehicle’s functions as required. So, saying “I’m cold”, will prompt the VPA to adjust the temperature inside the car accordingly. The BMW 3 Series is the first to include BMW’s Intelligent Personal Assistant, which is capable of being programmed with different combinations to improve the safety and well-being of the driver. For instance, if a driver communicates tiredness to the smart assistant, it will trigger a “vitalising” program that adjusts the vehicle’s interior lighting, music and temperature, among other things, in order to make the driver feel more awake.

Learned behaviour
The assistant is designed to improve with every command given, every question asked and every setting established. The system can also give fuel-saving driving tips, warn drivers when necessary, and alert them to maintenance issues, such as low tyre pressure, remind them of service appointments or even arrange appointments independently.

In-car VPAs can also be useful for everyday driving requests, such as looking for the nearest petrol station. Drivers can also allow the system to access their calendar and contacts, to receive reminders of when to leave, as well as real-time information on traffic jams and available parking at their destination.

Handsfree digital marketplace
And, of course, the entertainment sector also has a lot to gain. Handsfree requests, such as identifying the song playing or selecting a radio station based on a music genre, with a request like, “Play classical music, please”, will also become a natural part of consumer behaviour. Music service providers and other forms of entertainment that can be consumed during a commute are already in high demand, and this is only going to increase with automated vehicles, when drivers are able to reduce their attention on the road.

It will also be interesting to see how app manufacturers tailor the experience to the context of a car. One such example are apps that provide food-delivery services. Making these apps compatible with VPAs would allow drivers to order meals on-the-go, all the while keeping their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. The food could either be delivered to the driver’s destination or the system could adapt the navigation to guide the driver to pick it up in person.

This idea of combining transactions, appointments and entertainment under a single touchpoint is a business model that works for almost all sectors, and caters for a seamless user experience. A user can request a product or service and the VPA can locate a nearby location where the item is in stock or which facilities are open in the vicinity and simultaneously amend the route. The possibilities are endless.

Expert
Christoph Wachtmeister
Product Manager Corporate CarSharing