In the future, you may drive down the street happily chatting away to your electric car, but that future has been slow-coming for automakers, as Siri and Alexa take over more aspects of our lives at home and on the go.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay offer drivers access to their smartphone’s voice assistant, but automakers like Ford and Acura provide their own assistants that can understand simple commands to change settings like climate control.
The plans from Lucid Motors — the new electric car company that aims to rival Tesla — for voice integration certainly will raise the bar for natural language processing inside cars.
“I think many of you would agree that the auto industry has not been successful bringing voice command into the vehicle very well,” Derek Jenkins, vice president of design at Lucid said this month at the New York Auto Show.
Natural language commands are all part of Lucid’s vision of the future. Its first car, the luxury-focused Air, gives a front seat to voice. When deliveries start in 2019, the $52,500 vehicle will be taking on the likes of Tesla in the race to shape the future of automobiles.
“Voice we saw from the beginnings as a foundational element of what we see as the future of automotive [user experience],” James Felkins, a user experience designer at Lucid, tells Inverse.
Felkins points to research like this that finds the visual cognitive capabilities of a driver are consumed by the act of driving, making it difficult to control other parts of the car without losing focus. For the most part, though, drivers don’t talk too much, leaving an opportunity for Lucid to change the driving experience.
And “the things that get me in trouble on my phone, I’m just going to ask for from the car,” says Jenkins.
The company is working with an as-yet unnamed partner on the artificial intelligence backend. The Air will use an existing voice assistant and add in extra commands. That means Lucid can depend on another company’s expertise in natural language processing, and owners will be able to use the same assistant in situations outside of the car.
“We don’t think that it’s necessarily best for our end user to have multiple assistants in their life,” Felkins says. “If you have an Echo and an iPhone and an Android device, you’ve already got three personal assistants. We want to extend the digital life that you have into the vehicle.”
It may use an existing assistant, but these commands will change the way you use your car. Here are the nine predictions from Felkins and Jenkins.
1. “Turn off the lane departure warning”
You’re driving along and hear an irritating beep. Lane departure warnings are designed to inform drivers that they’re about to veer out of their lane, but sometimes they’re not appropriate. You want to switch it off, but you’ve never needed to before. In days gone by, you would have to mash buttons until the beeping stopped.
“That can be difficult to do, especially while you’re driving,” Felkins says. “You’ve probably never encountered that setting before, even if you’ve owned the car for a while.”
Not so with the Lucid Air. If you want the car to stop doing something, just tell the car to stop doing it. Couldn’t be simpler.
“With voice you can access any setting instantaneously,” Felkins says.
2. “What’s traffic like on my commute to work?”
Jenkins lays out a common scenario: “I get in the car and I want to know how long it’s going to take to wherever I’m going. I end up going onto Waze, because it’s the most accurate thing out there at checking my time.”
And checking your phone mid-journey can be dangerous. Natural language commands would make this easier and safer.
3. “Where’s the Starbucks?”
“That’s where natural voice is so critical, more in line with something like Amazon Echo, where if you want something from the car, you simply ask for it,” Jenkins says.
4. “Soften my suspension”
Don’t like the way your car’s handling? Tell the Air how you’d like it changed. The list of voice configurable settings extends to the car’s mechanics. Ask the car to soften your suspension, or make your steering feel a bit sporty. All without taking your hands off the wheel.
5. “Play ‘Bulls on Parade.’”
“Playing music on my playlist,” Jenkins says. “If I want to hear a specific song, much like Alexa — Led Zeppelin, Rage Against the Machine — I just want to ask for it.”
6. “Text Mike, ‘I’ll be there in five minutes’”
The Air has a number of advanced audio features to isolate the speaker’s voice. The car has been designed with noise canceling in mind: out of the 29 high-end speakers inside the car, eight are dedicated to active noise cancellation, producing a sound wave that works against the external car sounds. Drivers will be able to dictate text messages like these without the fear that it’ll turn up on their friend’s phone as a garbled mess.
7. “Give me a Swedish massage”
Inside the car, 12 beam-forming mics are used to locate a user’s voice. The end result is the car can tell who is speaking when. It’s a useful security guard against backseat passengers trying to mess with the steering, but it also means that if someone asks the car to switch on their seat’s massage feature, the car will know which person is speaking and switch on the correct massager.
8. “Play my reading playlist”
This involves calling on other apps and using their data in commands. Although some cars already support voice commands for playing music, if you have a third party audiobook player you might not be able to get the two systems to play nice. Lucid is working on making this happen.
9. “What’s the weather like at my destination?”
This is an example of the advanced natural language capabilities enabled by Lucid’s partner. The assistant knows what the destination is, and can understand how to work with this data to call up new information.