And talking to them seems to be the smart method.
With modern cars becoming more gadget-laden and networked, the challenge is in getting a driver to operate all the features with minimum distraction. And voice control is one technology that seems to be nosing ahead of the others as the interface of the future.
If you’re a sci-fi fan you’ll remember Star Trek’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard holding a conversation with the starship Enterprise’s computer, rather than doing anything as crude as pressing buttons.
The touchscreen infotainment systems in modern cars bundle numerous functions in a single interface, which reduces the clutter of buttons inside a car. But this can still be distracting and requires you to take your attention off the road and your hand off the wheel.
Car companies like BMW have given us gesture control, where sensors record hand movements in the air and you can adjust the audio volume by twirling your finger clockwise or anti-clockwise, and swipe your hand to accept or reject phone calls. It’s debatable whether waving your hand around leads to any less driving distraction than physically pressing a button however, so voice activation seems like the smart way to ensure safer driving.
Though the technology’s been around for some time, it’s becoming more clever. The recently-launched Audi A8, for instance, recognises more natural speech rather than having to speak a defined set of words or commands. For instance you can say “I’m cold’’ and your digital onboard hostess will ask what temperature you would prefer, and sets it accordingly. Or you can ask it/her to make the navigation system seek out restaurants in the area, and the car will guide you to Nando’s or whichever gastronomic venue you choose.
BMW has also just teamed up with Google Assistant to allow its customers to voice-activate certain vehicle functions - either from their home with voice-activated speakers like Google Home or while on the move via Android phones and iPhones.
To be launched first in the United States in December before being rolled out to the rest of the world, it’s an intuitive system where users don’t have to click a button or look at a screen. Using voice commands, they can check whether the windows and doors of their car are closed and how much charge an electric BMW i3 has remaining, plus ask for information about imminent appointments and required departure times depending on the traffic situation.
It’s much like talking to Siri or Google Assistant on your smartphone.
All you need to say is “Ok Google, ask BMW”. You can then follow up with individual questions by voice command, for instance: “When is my next appointment?”, “Send the address to my vehicle”, “When should I leave?”, “What is my remaining range?” or “Is my vehicle locked?”.
With the exponential march of technology, it won’t be too long before buttons could disappear altogether and most of our person-to-car communication could be by spoken word. By the time cars become fully autonomous, ie. able to drive themselves, all we’ll have to do is speak our destination and they’ll drive us there.
“To Nando’s, car.”