If someone else used the car before you, would you notice? Probably instantly. With the seat in a different position and the mirrors all over the place, the unfamiliar radio station and ventilation coming right at you might not be the only things that make your eyes sting. No, no, no, this doesn’t feel right. If you've been here – and we're pretty sure you have – you know these minor nuisances can, in sum, feel like a pretty big deal. Especially before a longer drive. Readjusting everything to your liking takes time and nerves – both of which most of us don't have aplenty of these days.
So, what to do? For now: Take a deep breath and make the car feel right again. We've discussed the importance of the correct position of seats and such before in our Driver's Health Series. Check it out, to read again how best to do that. And for the near future, here's the good news: You might not have to worry about these things much longer. The car will soon enough adapt to you. Sounds perfect, doesn't it? Well, it is already happening. From positioning your seat to greeting you by name and recalling your preferred settings modern car models can memorise and retrieve a variety of information about their passengers.
How does that work? The magic word here is digitalisation (for an in-depth interview on the topic with our CCO Markus Deusing click here). It is the main driver and enabler of the level of personalisation we will soon experience. Central on-board systems, which already exist in numerous new models, can for example tie electronical components of the car together and control them centrally. What this means is: If your seat can be controlled electronically, the system could just do it for you. And if so, why not have it doing so automatically? This, in a nutshell, is a small part of the bigger picture that is personalised driving. The only thing required from you is to ID yourself to the car and it transforms itself to your personal space on wheels.
Profiling you: User profiles
For the car to recognise you and set things up to your linking you have to show it who it's dealing with first. How do you do that? A simple and familiar way to achieve this are user profiles stored in the car's system. This works best if the car is owned by you or someone you know. Once set up you can come back to your personal profile or switch if somebody else used the car before you. The idea is to either choose it manually or in more practical way have it triggered by something. This trigger could for example be voice activation in connection with a digital assistant or a physical one like a chip in your car key.
Work smarter not harder: Smartphones as digital keys
Such a trigger could, of course, also be your smartphone. It's a personal item anyways and you likely always have it with you. Plus: Instead of in the car your information could just be stored on the phone. Just like apps such as our AlphaGuide that use your data to tailor to your specific needs. A smartphone trigger would also have the advantage that any car you use could customise itself for you without you ever having driven it before. This method is especially interesting for carsharing or carpool vehicles and systems. As soon as the car connects with your phone you can feel more at home in this new environment. Personalisation on the go, so to speak. For instance, ever since BMW introduced Apple iPod connectivity in 2004, they have worked to integrate a personalised “smartphone experience” into the car. Fast forward to the present, in-car connectivity through smartphone integration is ubiquitous in new vehicles (think MINI connected i.e. or Apple CarPlay and Android Auto). While the smartphone trigger is already being used to some extent by service providers in combination with for example carsharing apps, for it to really reach its potential all car manufacturers would have to agree on a common, standardised system. Only then could your personal settings truly follow you wherever you go.
You're the key: Biometrics
Speaking of truly personal: What is more personal than your face? Probably nothing. What we are hinting at here, of course, are biometrics. If the vehicle recognises you by the shape of your face, iris or fingerprint, no key or trigger is needed any longer. The technology for this already exists – and not just in science fiction movies. It is, however, quite pricy and because of the advanced electronics needed not yet ideal for the standard vehicle. Still, it's a likely perspective for the automotive future and sooner or later will make its way into the car one way or the other. Which brings us directly to our next subtopic:
AI & Autonomy
With highly capable sensors for face recognition and such, using the tech to only retrieve certain seat settings would be quite a waste of resources. Combined with AI it has the potential to deeply change and improve the driving experience. Recognizing a face is one thing, reading it quite another. If the car can read your face and understand your mood by scanning you for example with an infra-red camera, this information goes far beyond simple preferences. The car could anticipate your needs and translate them into actions benefitting your comfort and safety. It might set the lighting to brighten your day or make you feel more alert. It could surprise you with your favourite music and turn the heat up if you're cold. The possibilities are endless and quite frankly pretty exciting. As soon as cars become truly autonomous, personalisation on this level will become a massive topic of its own, turning the vehicle into something like your personal butler. Charming, isn't it?