Connected vehicles technology comes to life with IBM Watson IoT

By | 7 minute read | November 1, 2017

The driverless revolution in the auto industry is already buzzing along city streets around the world, in a variety of tests and trials—and not just for cars, but for 18-wheel delivery trucks loaded with beer. Yet the excitement surrounding the emergence of autonomous connected vehicles tends to overshadow another tech revolution underway: the addition of dynamic cognition layers that will enable cars to care for human comfort, information and entertainment preferences in new and unimagined ways.

Imagining the cognitive connected car

By 2025, according to a study by IBM, our cars will be sophisticated enough to self-diagnose repairs and communicate with other vehicles but also manage their internal environment, managing each person’s preference for entertainment and work productivity. That is valuable time drivers will re-acquire once relieved of the attention burdens of driving. On the road, everyone will get more hours back in their day to do what they want and not stress out in traffic.

So what—aside from autonomous driving technology—will change in the vehicle to make that happen? It’s an important interplay of cognition, communication, understanding people and security—something that researchers at IBM are working to figure out with a handful of leading automakers as they look toward vehicle design for the next decade and beyond.

“ It’s an important interplay of cognition, communication, understanding people and security—something that researchers at IBM are working to figure out with a handful of leading automakers as they look toward vehicle design for the next decade and beyond.”

The auto industry must move faster

Consider that our smartphones and tablets have redefined what we expect from a touchscreen. We expect information and entertainment at our fingertips. These ubiquitous surfaces serve as critical guides to how people interact and engage with their devices and the information streams available through them. Yet the auto industry hasn’t moved quite as fast as home entertainment, home security, or your phone.

It’s an important interplay of cognition, communication, understanding people and security—something that researchers at IBM are working to figure out with a handful of leading automakers as they look toward vehicle design for the next decade and beyond.

Sebastian Wedeniwski, IBM Distinguished Engineer and CTO of its automotive division, runs a team that works with electronics brands such as Panasonic, and with top carmakers such as BMW, to build the underpinning software for those vehicles by 2025. They’re tackling some of these big questions of interaction. But, he points out, “Many people wonder why their car isn’t a smartphone experience.” Panasonic Silicon Valley Center’s Strategy & Innovation Executive Director Hakan Kostepen adds “This is all about ‘Cognitive Life’ coming together with Panasonic Edge Device Intelligence imbued with IBM Watson Pervasive – Cloud Intelligence to create cognitive experiences across all verticals where IBM and Panasonic are active from Connected Cars to Smart City Solutions.”

The quick answer is that a car presents far more complicated questions for designers and engineers when it comes to interpreting human intentions than a smartphone or a tablet. We get into our cars with different passengers, different destinations in mind, and a variety of reasons for making a trip.

Data enhances the overall experience

While cars are far more complicated than a smartphone or tablet, the actions of the people using it—along with information from the multitude of sensors in the vehicle as it operates—provide a trove of data that can be used to enhance the overall experience. This includes everything from active safety solutions to orchestrating the trip for efficiency, allowing users to reclaim time they would have otherwise wasted. All of this information will power the new cognitive layers of in-vehicle technology.

As each vehicle connects to the network, spanning our personal devices to the entire traffic grid, cars will need to truly “know” a driver and his or her family. A car’s cognition will need to answer a lot of questions about the passengers. First, who’s operating the vehicle? What are their preferences and driving requirements? Then a car’s intelligence system will need figure out the intent of the trip –– determining what apps are integrated, and how, into the experience.

Consider a family sharing a vehicle. The oldest teenager drives his siblings to school each morning –– what’s the safest route considering his driving habits? How should mom re-route her trip to work because snow closed an onramp and she needs coffee? Is big sister making a simple run to the grocery store or a holiday shopping trip with multiple stores along the way? If the latter, the car will need to understand store hours (open and peak). If the family has shopping loyalty programs, the car will need to incorporate those accounts into choosing routes and event remote payments. Imagine picking up coffees at Starbuck’s drive-thru window where your order’s waiting and paid for when you arrive. The cognition will go beyond all the logistical challenges, too—before anyone goes anywhere, the car will understand the general mood and frame of mind of the driver and everyone else, and make adjustments as needed. (If mom is stressed out and in a rush, the car might forego entertainment or music and focus on helping her complete other tasks.)

“It’s important to make all that intelligence seamless,” Wedeniwski says. In a future where vehicles communicate with traffic hubs, satellites, applications, other cars, your home, your office and all the points in between, our vehicles will require an on-board intelligence engine—such as IBM Watson—that can sort, direct, and personalize all that information to serve human needs. That’s when cognition becomes even more critical. Today, the driver’s first priority is to drive — keep their focus on the road. IBM has been partnering with electronics veterans such as Panasonic to ensure that next-generation dashboard features and functions are seamless, so drivers always operate with the highest levels of safety.

In many ways, cars are our ultimate “mobile device.” As we gradually let go of the wheel, says Wedeniwski, carmakers will need to re-imagine the symbiosis between driver, vehicle and the world around them—with the IoT serving as the connective tissue. Cars stand to benefit the most. Across the auto industry, big players on both sides—hardware and software—are setting their sights on that future. Autonomous ride-hailing is being tested in San Francisco as well as autonomous trucking. And innovative automakers are already programming autonomous driving features in their cars.

No more telling the car your destination; Watson will understand you have a lunch meeting at your favorite restaurant and how to get there. Off you go.

Imagine if every taxi driver was as smart as Yelp. But to keep sharing that important data, drivers will need to trust the security of the car. Allowing hackers inside an automated car system is simply not an option. Veterans like IBM have spent decades building systems resistant to hackers and outside threats, which is why automakers are turning to such Silicon Valley expertise to lock up user’s information. Only when drivers feel secure sharing personal information will automakers and application providers be able to use that data to optimize our vehicle experiences. And IBM is doing this in tandem with their partners. Panasonic’s Kostepen adds “IBM and Panasonic are bringing the Silicon Valley Innovation elements with Panasonic and IBM legacy around trust, security and privacy at all levels of Cognitive Life Solutions.”

Reimagining the car interior

The physical space inside the car will also need an overhaul. It has to mirror the fact that drivers and passengers will have all this time and focus back in their lives. Carmakers won’t just be re-thinking the designs for seats, dashboards and doors but the mentality with which passengers approach the vehicle. Traditional cars—and even the Tesla, for that matter—have always been built with the echo of a horse-drawn carriage: driver goes up front, passengers sit in back.

The passenger has always had the worst seat in the house. But as the car gradually takes over the driving, everyone in the car should be in position to better enjoy the surroundings.

Ultimately, tomorrow’s cars may start to look more like living rooms and places of work—not just a couple rows of seats on the go. And with intelligence like Watson’s likely underpinning the computing, cars can start to feel more like sanctuary than a stressful place to commute and cart around kids.

Find out more at Watson IoT for Automotive.