110 years later, a conversational assistant is another step in automotive innovation

110 years ago, the first Ford Model T was assembled.

In 1908, automobiles had already been around for decades. Yet they were still a novelty; expensive and out of reach for most Americans. But that all that changed when the first Ford Model T was assembled in Detroit, Michigan.

It was a car built for the middle class. It wasn’t cheap at $825 (or about $18,000 by today’s standards) but it was much less expensive than previous vehicles. Ford kept the prices low because he made just one initial product: the Model T. That allowed his engineers to develop a system of interchangeable parts, which reduced waste, saved time and made it easier for unskilled workers to assemble the cars.

How times have changed

Today’s high-end autos have 100M+ lines of code and are more complex than Henry Ford could have ever imagined. They’ve become their own system of systems. And in many ways, today’s connected car are like our computers. Full of functionality yet mostly under-utilized.

According to a recent survey by Kantar TNS, almost half (47%) of connected car owners don’t know that their cars have features which classify them as a “connected car”. And a quarter (25%) of car owners don’t actively use their car’s connected features.* Still, most vehicle manufacturers firmly believe that connectivity is the future. In a recent study from the IBM Institute for Business Value, 80% of executives said that “comprehensive connected vehicle services” will be a key differentiator for consumers.

So why build—or buy – a connected vehicle? Why not go back to the Model T?

Because we want to live a connected life (even if we don’t know always know how). By 2020, there will be at least four internet-connected devices for every person on Earth. That means automotive executives are right – solving the in-vehicle connectivity issue will set manufacturers apart. And it’s a hurdle that could be overcome with voice.

The human-machine interface (HMI) in today’s vehicles

Many vehicles have an overly complex human-machine interface (HMI) that requires mastery of too many knobs, levers and buttons. Drivers are overwhelmed. They’re using a fraction of the vehicle’s capabilities, and certainly aren’t motivated to pay for expensive added services in which they don’t see sufficient value.

However, since voice is quickly becoming the liberating factor for many of our other devices – why not our vehicles, too? It solves the problem of using our hands to connect while keeping drivers safer and on the right side of the law. Driving is simpler when all you have to do is ask your car for assistance (“show me the fastest way to my appointment”). No fumbling through menus, no frantically pressing buttons. And the driving experience is further differentiated when the car will anticipate what you need before you say a word (“you’ll need to get gas before your next appointment, and I’ve found the closest preferred gas station that’s on your way”).

An in-car, AI assistant lets drivers stay connected while keeping their hands on the wheel.

In the U.S., 47 states ban texting while driving. Around the globe, it’s illegal in 30 countries, with hefty penalties including jail time.


Three questions if you’re considering an assistant

If you’re considering an in-vehicle assistant, you first need to consider a few questions when you evaluate the options:

  1. What sort of experience do you want to deliver? Customer expectations are high; by 2020, 75% of buyers expect companies to anticipate their needs and make relevant suggestions. Will you use an assistant to deliver on that expectation with something unique and personalized? Or will you settle for the usual nearest coffee shop and weather information?
  2. How will an assistant help you build your brand? If “comprehensive connected vehicle services” is truly a differentiator, will customers recognize that it’s your brand that’s delivering those services, or are you setting yourself to be disintermediated in the process?
  3. What’s going to happen to all the data? Customers are literally telling assistants what they want. That gives you a unique opportunity to identify trends, create new services and even new business models. But only if your data remains yours. If your assistant strategy includes partners, make sure you understand all the terms and conditions of your relationship, especially when it comes to who owns—and can use – your data.

Even as vehicles get more complicated, an AI assistant can help you simplify things for drivers. Just like Ford’s Model T, it’s a revolutionary approach to the auto experience. Except this time, you’re using the power of AI to deliver a whole new driving experience.

Let me leave you with more piece of driving history. In 1923, Garrett Morgan patented the three-position traffic signal. As he said then, “If you can be the best, why not try and be the best.” His quote perfectly sums up what today’s automotive manufacturers are all striving for: to be the best, stay relevant and deliver the driving experience that customer’s want


* The Consumer Disconnect With Connected Cars




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