When Do I Get to Meet KITT?

Ah, the children of the 1980s – we had some great TV shows, didn’t we? We had shows like Battlestar Galactica (ok, “late 1970s”) where learned important lessons like space fighters, in space, with no air, will still bank & fly like normal air-lift warplanes (wrong!). Also, the Dukes of Hazard, where we learned that cars the head off a ramp pointing upwards will, upon the change of camera angle, suddenly be flat and land on all 4 wheels almost simultaneously (very wrong!). Or, let’s not forget The A-Team, where we learned the all important lesson that, if you want to keep a group of former special-forces operative confined, it’s perfectly OK to lock them up in a old garage with an acetylene torch, parts from several old go-carts, and various bottles of compressed helium (so very, very wrong). And, last, but certainly not least, Knight Rider, where we learned that cars could be made that could not only talk to us, but do so with pretty remarkable AI (Artificial Intelligence) and, when needed, could actually drive itself (not wrong?!?). So, while the first 3 shows clearly either violated the laws of physics or common sense, it turns out the Knight Rider, eventually, may turn out to be right, just not perhaps as soon as originally imagined (presumably, given the car was called Knight Industries Two Thousand, or KITT, it gave us at least a feeling for when the creators of the show thought it might materialize).

How close is KITT coming to being a reality? Well, I think some folks would say the answer will always be “not soon enough.” That’s why I was very happy when I saw the news this week that Intel has announced a large-scale commitment to helping to accelerate the development of more connected cars to make your life easier. In an even held in Karlsruhe, Germany, our CEO, Paul Otellini gave a keynote address to commemorate the new initiative:

“In today’s mobile world, personal computing touches every part of consumers’ daily lives while at home, at the office and on the road. By broadening our research efforts, academic and capital investments and opening the Automotive Innovation and Product Development Center, Intel is deepening its understanding of how people interact with their cars and how Intel innovations can enhance the automotive experience.”

From where I sit, I think this is nothing but goodness. Even if I didn’t work for the world’s best chip company (in my opinion), I think bring intelligence into our automobiles can’t happen fast enough. For example, have you ever been listen to the news on the radio & they say something, but you didn’t quite catch it? If that happens on my TV today, I just tap the “bounce back” button twice & I can hear it again. What doesn’t my car have a DVR like function (ok, I guess it should be a Digital Audio Recorder – DAR) so that I can not only “rewind” to catch something I miss, but also, say, record a radio show that’s on while I’m AT WORK & play it back ON MY WAY HOME. This isn’t really rocket science.

Or, the other day, I was watching an episode of “Blue Bloods” & the two back-up cops were following two undercover cops, but they couldn’t get too close, so were relying on audio clues like when one of the undercover cops said “I remember delivering oil on Ash Street.” [SPOILER ALERT] Unfortunately, the back-up cops get cut off, lose sight of their friends, and end up not getting there in time. But, the question is, in 2012, why can’t I run an app like “Glympse” so that following one car – or keeping a gaggle of cars together in a road-trip caravan – isn’t a fool-proof system. We should be able to do this today and hopefully, with our investments we are making today in the “connected car,” apps like Glympse or Gas Buddy (as just 2 of MANY examples) will soon be able to make it to a dashboard near you.

However, it is worth mentioning that one of the key mantras that Intel is using in its pursuit of a a more connected car is safety. For example, you will never see any plans from Intel to put a keyboard on your steering wheel. For us, keeping you more informed is good, but only if we can do it in a safe & non-distracting way. A key part of the research we will be doing at the Intel Labs Interaction and Experience Research (IXR) in automotive will be to see how we can actually reduce the complex interactions when driving. Features like voice recognition & text (or data) to speech are key tools we need to use as much as possible to allow the driver to remain attentive to the driving environment. On the other side, some of the entertainment features we are promoting would also actually help with safety. Such as the stereotypical “Are were there YET?” screech from the back seats. What if there was a button (we’ll call it the AWTY button) on the back of the front seat, so when you child pushes, the display where show “From” & “To” on a map along with the route between them & even an estimation as to how long before they are actually “there.” Sound Good?

But what about “today.” Many folks may think “Later” is “Good,” but “Now” is “Better.” I, for one, would tend to agree. That’s why I was really excited when I got to to to Consumer Electronics Show 2012 this year. I had the opportunity to sit down & chat with Mr Steven Chen, Vice CTO of Foryou General Electronics Co. Ltd. and we got to discuss one of their latest products, the MG4906, which is using an Intel Atom processor. No, it didn’t have the fancy red “mouth” of KITT & it could carry on long winded conversations with me, but it did have a notable set of features that I had never seen in an In-Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) system before. For example, it had tiny sensors on the case so that it would be able to do some gesture recognition such as wave your hand across it so that it might change to a new radio station. It also had enough processing power so that it would be able to do what they call “local voice recognition” (meaning the analysis is done right there in the dashboard) as opposed to remote voice recognition, where your voice recording is actually uploaded to some servers in the cloud somewhere & the analysis is done there, followed by the results are sent back to you. When you compare the two approaches, local voice recognition has two huge advantages over the other approach (which you commonly see in cell phones). One, because it is local, in your system, it can learn YOUR voice better, how you say things, what words you use, etc. Specifically in my case, when I say “I want to live in a mansion” most systems will likely get that right. But, if I’m dictating an email, and close it out as “Sincerely <comma> Eric Mantion” most systems will probably get that wrong & write “Eric mansion.” You can imagine how tiresome it would become if every time I want to say my last name, I need to spell it out. On top of the features above, it also had many of the functions that you’d consider “normal” for a high-end system like this, such as navigation, connects to your phone, plays the radio, displays the weather, etc., but it also is based on the GENIVI-compliant Linux distribution, and Mr. Chen explicitly stated that there would be a way for users to get new apps on this platform.

So, as I mentioned from my previous blog from CES, I think this opens up a wide spectrum where people can take multiple functions – such as GPS location & Web Access – to create an app that not only finds you “cheap gas” but will focus on the locations that are most inline with your current route – instead of 10 miles off the highway just so you can (literally) save 2 cents a gallon. Or, based on your preset radio stations in your home city, it might cross reference those with other “similar” stations as you go over the mountain & through the woods go Grandmother’s house, so that it will keep finding radio stations you will likely like, even if you are 2 states over from where you started. And, perhaps most importantly, remember the ones you originally liked when you (eventually) get back to your home city. I won’t go so far as to say the possibilities are endless, but I will say that, as explosive as the “smart phone” app market is, I could see the “car app” market being a similar size in just a few years. But, unfortunately, one of the first cool IVI system with Intel inside (the Foryou MG4906) will actually be getting released to the Domestic Chinese market in the second quart of this year. For those of us outside of China, the wait may be a little longer.

But, in the meantime, what do you think? Does this concept of a more connected car (beyond where we are today) excite you? What would you most want out of a “Clever Car?”

  1. Would you like the ability to see a map with real-time information on where the open parking spots are in the mall? (that would not be as hard as you might think!)
  2. How about the ability to order (and pay) for fast food before you even get there so you pull into a “take-out” parking spot & they bring it right out to you (because it was ready before you arrived!)
  3. How about real-time tracking of your all-too-recently licensed teenage driver? How much more relaxed would you feel with the exact location, speed, and, say, gas tank level right there on your tablet as they go out on their first big “I can DRIVE!” date?
  4. What about near real-time traffic updates to that your route to the dentist will get updated if there is an accident or whatnot up ahead? Scratch that, who wants to be “on time” for the dentist? Ice cream shop – yeah, we all want to be on time for that!

The list of ways in which a more intelligent, more connected car could improve your life is almost staggering. But please let us know what you’d like to see in the comments below! Or, if you’d rather, just let us know WHEN you think there really will be a car like KITT that you can drive? 😉

Or, as always, you can let me know what you think on Twitter if you’d prefer: @Geek8ive

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