The exclamation point that lights up on your dashboard – it’s trying to tell you something important, but you have no idea what it is. Is it a flat tire, low oil? A maintenance reminder? What is it?!
A colleague of mine recently had a similar experience on a “balmy” 7-degree day in Massachusetts when he started his car and was greeted by the infamous exclamation point. Being resourceful, he took out the owner’s manual, flipped through pages for longer than he cared to, and eventually found the page about warning lights. He had low tire pressure.
Old school paper manuals are now meeting new school infotainment systems, where his car had a screen of four tires with various PSI levels. The normal level is 34, but one of the tires was down to 26. The problem (on top of the obvious one) was that the screen gave no indication as to which tire was the problem tire. On the screen, it was the second tire from the left in a row of four, but what did that mean? Front right? Back left?
Long story short, he ended up at the gas station playing the guessing game with the air pump in 7-degree weather, eventually landing on the right one.
Imagine if the car could have simply said “air pressure in back right tire is at 26 PSI, please inflate to the recommended 34 PSI.” Simple, right?
Tire pressure is a minor example. What if it had been an engine warning light, or the automatic braking system started malfunctioning? Worse yet, what if one of these lights had come on while he was driving?
The good news is that our cars are becoming incredibly intelligent – loaded with sensors that are increasingly being tied into the HMI. Today, we see this intelligent communication manifested through automotive assistants capable of playing our favorite music, navigating us to the right location, and giving us recommendations for points of interest. But we’ll really see this intelligence shine when we go beyond the infotainment system, and apply the automotive assistant to the sensors and diagnostics of the vehicle.
Consider the tire pressure example from before, only the car is now powered by an automotive assistant. The tire pressure light comes on and, immediately, the assistant says, “The tire pressure in your back-right tire is down to 26 PSI, eight PSI points below the recommended level. It is safe to drive, but your next stop should be a gas station. Let me route you to the nearest one with an air pump.”
No moment of, “What does that light mean?” No fumbling through pages and pages of the owner’s manual. No guessing which tire at the air pump.
Another example is simply being able to ask the assistant for information typically found in the owner’s manual. For instance, if say, your windshield wiper breaks, it would be amazing to simply say “What’s the correct length for a replacement passenger-side windshield wiper?” Again, no page-turning in the manual required.
There is serious potential for this type of automotive assistant integration. It could usher in a new and, frankly, needed period of convenience for drivers that aligns nicely with the broader movement of drivers being expected to do less as cars become capable of doing more.
To make this a reality, there will need to be harmony between the car manufacturers, who maintain control of the vital sensors and diagnostics, and the providers of the automotive assistant. This experience needs to be designed specifically for the car and data needs to be shared freely between these groups. For the companies that have their eyes on the car but want to move at the expense of the automakers, this assistant experience won’t be possible.
More and more of us are getting used to talking to our cars and our other devices. And while I can appreciate an accurate weather forecast or a proactive recommendation of a Spotify playlist, I’m ready for my car to tell me more about itself. It will be safer and more convenient, and it will further usher me into this exciting next era of the connected car.