Your in-car virtual assistant

IBM and UCD partner on intelligent assistant based on driving data

Virtual assistants have entered into our homes and public consciousness, thanks to tools like Facebook Messenger, Amazon Alexa and Slack. However, a team at IBM Research in partnership with University College Dublin has been posing the question of what happens when a cognitive assistant comes to our assistance in our cars?

As stated in the IBM Research blog,

The Cognitive In-Car Companion is designed to look after the driver and the passengers while being as unobtrusive as possible. Using historical data as well as real-time data from in- and outside the car, the companion predicts the driver’s intentions while being aware of the environment and the context of the driver’s journey. If the companion foresees any difficult or risky situations, it assists the driver in avoiding them.

So while many of us are used to having GPS systems that can guide us to our locations and reroute based on traffic conditions, their project goes a step further, as you can see in this demo:

What stands out here is that the system is active (rather than passive), but not overly controlling. Rather than automatically rerouting, it suggests that based on its knowledge, a gate at your intended location is closed so you might want to try an alternative. If you agree, it will then take the necessary steps to guide you. But note, only after you agree.

One other facet of this project is the move to increase the level of data available inside the vehicle. This ranges from environmental data, to information and diagnostics about the car itself, data exchanged by other cars on the network and patterns from past drivers.

As Wendy Belluomini, director of IBM’s research lab in Ireland points out, the goal here is different to that of building autonomous cars:

“We’re trying to create vehicles that are much more fun to be in; that help you with all the difficulties that are unpleasant; and that protect you from various dangers.”

The article goes on to point out that one other benefit here is potential to create a safer driving experience by using chat systems to converse with drivers, reducing the need for distracting dashboard displays.

There are parallels in this work to what was shown at CES earlier this year in the development with Panasonic of a cognitive in-car system.