It will understand and respond to our language and gestures to find solutions to problems. The experts at Volkswagen Electronics Development explain how.
Routes, guides, bookings: this is what you need when organising a trip, perhaps even just a weekend break. But all this is destined to change in the near future, when we'll only have to pop a small bag in the boot and get into the car, with the seat automatically shifting into a relaxed travel position. We'll be able to point a finger at the display to choose a film or our favourite TV series to watch during the journey and then simply say “Start” and confirm the suggested route, and the car will start all by itself.
It may sound like science fiction, but this is one of the scenarios which will become possible with the integration of autonomous driving and connectivity. That’s not all: at the Volkswagen’s Electronics Development department, experts are working on enabling our vehicles to become personal assistants who, with the help of artificial intelligence, understand our needs. When? In just a few years' time.
Voice and gesture control
Astrid Kassner belongs to the voice and gesture control team, working to ensure that vehicles are able to understand and execute a command given with just a small gesture of the finger. This will be particularly important when the person in a self-driving car no longer has to be responsible for steering: “We'll be able to lean back and relax, without being able to reach the cockpit with our hands: so gestures and the voice will be fundamental”, explains Astrid Kassner.
In technical terms, an infrared camera captures hand motions, continuously measuring the distance between the hand and the infrared source. Already today the team can give some commands with just a swipe of the hand, but in the future they'll be able to do much more. “Many need just a few minutes to get used to the operating concept. That certainly has something to do with the fact that we are accustomed to using similar gestures with our smartphones”, adds Astrid Kassner.
The right tips
The cars of tomorrow need not only to understand our speech and gestures, but also to give us the right tips at the right moment. That’s what developer Stefan Henze is working on. When the car encounters heavy traffic, for example, the vehicle could recommend that the driver use Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), which regulates the distance between the vehicle and the one in front of it.
And if the person at the wheel is not familiar with this device, the car will explain how it works, also allowing it to be activated with a voice command. “The biggest challenge with such recommendations is finding the right dose”, says Stefan Henze. “We don’t want to pester the driver with constant tips”. So in order to choose the right moment, artificial intelligence will evaluate vehicle data like speed and GPS position. “The recommendation to use ACC will only be issued when an extended standstill is imminent”, Stefan Henze concludes.
Like a tourist guide
In the near future, the driver will also have the option of whether to buy a function or merely use it for a limited amount of time. For example, a driver who only goes on long journeys once a year will be able to activate the Traffic Jam Assistant only for that specific period of time.
Once at the destination, the car of the future could become an impromptu tour guide – above all when it has taken over the driving, leaving the occupants to observe the surroundings in peace. Ideally, if the passenger requires information about a building of interest along the route, he/she will be able to just point to it and ask: the car will provide the appropriate details and ask whether he/she wants to stop and take a closer look.
Source: Volkswagen AG