The A.I. Assistant Already Inside Your Next Car

Honda's NeuV has advanced A.I.

Honda’s NeuV has advanced A.I.

When you’re not driving your car, chances are it’s sitting in a driveway, garage, or parking space. Honda wants to change that: At CES 2017, it unveiled the New Electric Urban Vehicle (NeuV, pronounced ‘new-v’) concept car, which will transform your daily driver from a regular piece of machinery to one that learns your preferences and drives people around while you sleep.

As auto hardware goes, NeuV is similar to any other concept car. It has a lot of bells and whistles that delight, but likely won’t make it to production (if it ever gets that far). The entire dash is designed to be a screen, and there’s an electric skateboard in the rear hatch for making the final approach to your destination after parking. A 20kWh battery and dual 56kW motors power the vehicle along.

NeuV is also tiny. It has roughly the same footprint as a Scion xA, a two-seater ideal for dense metro areas.

But software is where NeuV really gets interesting. Honda’s plans include its Honda Automated Network Assistant (HANA). HANA is designed to be a personal, adaptive in-car digital assistant; it can gauge your emotions, learn your decision-making tells and monitor your behavior. From there, it tries to mold itself into a capable assistant for each situation (a digital yin to your yang, so to speak).

So while you’re driving aggressively through downtown side-streets, trying to make a meeting, HANA might put on some soothing music and offer to call ahead to let them know you’ll be five minutes late. It may even encourage you to slow down and take it easy so you don’t end up crashing into another vehicle or a wall.

When you’re not enjoying HANA, it can transform your car into a ride-sharing vehicle. Honda says NeuV can be programed to pick riders up and drop them off at a destination, which suggests it may be able to link to a ride-sharing platform such as Uber. Recently, Uber began testing full autonomous ride-sharing in California.

If it’s not somehow tethered to an existing hailing service, Honda may have to work out its own network of drivers/riders for NeuV, though it seems a bit niche to do so.

NeuV can also sell its unused energy back to the grid. “We designed NeuV to become more valuable to the owner by optimizing and monetizing the vehicle’s downtime,” said Mike Tsay, Principal Designer at Honda R&D Americas.

Cars And A.I. are Blooming

NeuV is the clearest example of what in-car A.I. could be. Other automakers, including Ford, are readying their machines for today’s smarter, more connected world. At this year’s CES, Ford rolled out cars with Amazon’s Alexa on-board; owners can say things like, “Alexa, ask my Ford to start,” which would – wait for it – start your care remotely.

Because it’s designed for interconnectivity with your home’s network, Ford’s use of Alexa is tethered to your domicile. When in your car, you can ask Alexa to turn the lights on at home, or open your garage door. You can also ask if you locked your car while you’re sitting on the couch.

Toyota’s Concept-i is similar to Honda’s approach, governed by the overall philosophy that the car and driver should be in sync; it’s a juxtaposition to Ford’s view that your car should link back to your home. Like NeuV, Concept-i tries to learn your moods, preferences and behavior to mold itself into the perfect in-car A.I. system.

“At Toyota, we recognize that the important question isn’t whether future vehicles will be equipped with automated or connected technologies,” said Bob Carter, Senior Vice President of Automotive Operations at Toyota. “It is the experience of the people who engage with those vehicles. Thanks to Concept-i and the power of artificial intelligence, we think the future is a vehicle that can engage with people in return.”

The problem here is that each system is disparate. Ford’s use of Alexa is easily the more immediately enticing option, but you can’t use Alexa remotely. For instance, there’s no way to tell Alexa on your iPhone to turn your car on if it’s cold outside your office.

Honda and Toyota aim to delight you with personal assistants, but it’s still more proprietary tie-in from big auto companies. With Apple dragging its heels with Siri and CarPlay, and Google’s Android Auto still finding its footing, there’s no clear-cut standard emerging for the industry.

Still, there’s a lot to look forward to. For developers, more platforms means more opportunity. Broader adoption of in-car A.I. means we’ll be able to grab more data, have different kinds of driving experiences, and otherwise think outside of our existing boxes.

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