Why Auto OEMs Should Seriously Consider Their In-Car Digital Companion

Technology and the pandemic is shifting care from the clinic to the home

Throughout the last few years, voice assistants have rapidly transitioned from a thing of the future to the new norm. According to recent data from Statista, in 2019, about 3.25 billion voice assistants were used in devices across the globe – 110 million in the United States alone. And by 2022, they predict those numbers will nearly double to 6.41 billion users. As voice interfaces continue to shape our experiences at work and home, it’s natural that their presence will expand even further into other aspects of our lives where they’re already at play, from our appliances, to our wearables, home robotics, and, perhaps most importantly, our cars.

Soon, cars – the vehicles by which we spend an immense portion of our time – will inevitably become the third space for voice to dominate, not just via voice assistants, but with fully fledged digital companion agents for mobility. Digital companions are the natural evolution of digital assistants, replacing utilitarian voice command with a bidirectional human-machine relationship based on empathy, trust, and anticipation of needs. How might that look within the car?

Imagine something that brings a car to life, proactively anticipating users’ needs, preferences, and behaviors, while building trust and enforcing the automaker’s brand. Context-aware, character-based AI agents that use a myriad of data – and perform the executive function of aggregating all of the car’s sensory data into one place, to sense, understand, decide, and act accordingly. Unlike agents designed primarily for the home, an agent designed specifically for mobility not only has the massive potential to keep us safer on the road, it would help streamline and control all of the car’s vital features – like adjusting settings for inclement weather, alerting us about urgent maintenance needs and flat tires, facilitating handoffs, parking, and otherwise.

Having this type of technology within the car would completely revolutionize the in-car experience, creating a new dynamic in which people and mobility agents work together as teammates, side by side. Ultimately, each ride becomes an opportunity to inform, delight and assist users, while keeping them safe and building trust. Let’s take a closer look at the case for digital companion agents for mobility: what aspects they’ll encompass, the massive opportunities and benefits they bring to the table, and their integral role in the future of automotive.

Shifting towards experience-centered mobility

Consumers today are already selecting cars based on their in-car features and capabilities. A recent survey conducted by VoiceBot.AI found that over 60% of surveyed consumers factor voice assistants into their car purchasing decisions, and over 70% of smart speaker owners tend to do so. Going forward, demand for in-car tech innovation will likely continue to grow, as users begin to care less about conventional driving features, and more about the type of immersive in-car experience their car can provide. This shift shouldn’t be too surprising, as many cars are already equipped with voice assistants, cameras, and sensors that monitor drivers and their surrounding environments.

The next generation of mobility will take this a step further – cars will be packed with even more sensors and interfaces, which the digital mobility agent would use, along with proprietary algorithms, to study its user and environment and actively anticipate their needs and preferences, to effectively understand if, when, and how to optimally engage each user while building their trust. This way, the agent can execute the right type of interaction at the opportune moment – not merely through voice, but via multiple enticing modalities like speech, screens, LEDs, and otherwise, for a comprehensive, fully customized in-car experience.

And this personalized experience could take on many shapes and forms for each individual user – whether it’s intuitively knowing their seating and thermostat preferences for increased in-cabin comfort; understanding just how comfortable they are with parallel parking; knowing how to keep them alert when drowsiness is detected; or learning how to effectively talk them through a lane clearance. By creating their own distinct, branded in-car agent, OEMs have the unique opportunity to completely transform the in-car experience, amplifying both drivers and their brand like never before.

New feature adoption and discovery

Despite the burgeoning array of advanced and autonomous features now available in cars, for most of us, letting go of the wheel altogether is still a pretty new and daunting notion. Before we feel fully comfortable taking on drastically new features, we’ll first need some guidance and mediation along the way – think of it like riding a bike with training wheels. This is where a digital mobility agent comes into play.

Over time, as the agent learns and understands our behavior, routines, needs, and preferences, it can leverage this information to communicate with us most effectively, at the ideal moment. Working as a teammate alongside us, it provides reassurance and peace of mind as it talks us through uncharted features and situations, every step of the way. This driver-agent dynamic inherently helps build users’ trust and strengthen the relationship between the two, so new and autonomous features become a lot less daunting.

Furthermore, as our cars’ abilities continue to advance and evolve, the in-car agent would seamlessly facilitate digital adoption of new technology. Whether there’s a software update, new feature available, or a new setting we might like to try, our cars would intuitively know how to alert and teach us about it in a dynamic manner that’s tailored just for us. After all, how many of us actually read our car manuals? With a mobility agent alongside us, we’d understand how to operate, execute, and embrace new features much more quickly and smoothly.

Steering away from the unsafe valley

When drivers aren’t manually, visually and/or cognitively focused on the road, the results can be disastrous. Though most ADAS features were designed to make passengers safer, improper understanding and utilization of these features can actually be more dangerous than regular driving – the unsafe valley of vehicle automation. Because of the uncertainty regarding when the driver should take control vs. when the car will, drivers allow themselves to lose focus, relax too much, and become even more distracted and confused than they would during standard manual driving – and thus, more likely to crash.

Think about it – as drivers begin to relinquish control to their cars, there’s a big gray area in terms of when they’ll need to pay full attention and take control, and when their car will handle everything for them. And the transition between the two isn’t always clear, and tends to happen all too quickly. This is another area in which the digital mobility agent could be immensely beneficial. After studying and learning its driver, the agent would intuitively understand how to create a personal and contextual interaction, one that effectively influences the driver’s attention and situational understanding.

In other words, the agent would know how to effectively communicate with them throughout various situations in an optimal manner – whether that’s noticing when they’re losing focus and perking them up, or informing drivers about when they’ll need to take over the wheel after a handoff. Having an agent in the car to actively anticipate drivers’ behavior would intrinsically improve the way that they drive, keeping them more alert, attentive – and most importantly, safe. This dynamic will of course require a certain level of trust and understanding between the driver and the agent.

Data and experience ownership

By designing and developing their own mobility agent, auto OEMs can retain full ownership of all aspects involved. Automakers can therefore align the agent to match the car’s interior and exterior design, and their experience design teams will have the ability to consistently update, enhance and customize all aspects of the in-car agent and experience.

And by creating the agent independently, they’ll also have sole access to invaluable user data and insights. Rather than sharing access to this data with third party tech companies or completely giving it all up, auto OEMs would have exclusive access to this data, to get a better understanding of their customers’ needs and preferences.

Brand values, loyalty, and differentiation

Finally, an in-car agent presents an enormous opportunity for OEMs to create and establish brand values, differentiation and loyalty. Each mobility agent has a unique, distinguishable character and persona that fully embodies its product and brand, bringing it to life through each interaction. This character should be helpful, memorable, and specifically designed for its product, differing immensely based on where it’s embedded. For example, the character and persona of the agent within a Ford Mustang would be very different – and would act completely distinctively – from the agent inside of a Kia Sedona.

Ultimately, the agent provides an incredible means to reflect, emanate and personify the automaker’s brand identity and values, allowing them to demonstrate who they are as a company, what message they want to convey to the world, and how they want to bring their make and model to life via each unique character and experience.

And as the in-car experience becomes the paramount distinction for consumers, integrating a personalized, indispensable agent – one that truly understands its user and provides them with ample entertainment, convenience, safety and delight – will be a massively influential deciding factor for consumers. The more a user enjoys their mobility agent and in-car experience, the more value and satisfaction they’ll gain from their cars – and the more they’ll associate that positive experience with the corresponding brand. Thus, by providing riders with the ideal in-car experience, tailored to each individual’s needs and preferences, mobility agents inherently help auto OEMs establish immensely strong brand loyalty, attachment, and user retention.

Driving into the future with digital companion agents

As our cars become more intelligent than ever, it’s clear that a massive transformation in the automotive arena as we know it is on the horizon. From data and experience ownership, to brand differentiation, user attachment, feature discovery and beyond, the enormous number of benefits that mobility agents can provide are truly boundless. With digital mobility companions paving the way, we’ll soon move towards a new type of dynamic, in which people and mobility agents team up together harmoniously, amplifying drivers and brands like never before.

While technology for mobility rapidly expands and evolves, right now is an incredibly exciting turning point for automakers, an immense opportunity just waiting to be explored. The time has arrived for automotive’s biggest visionaries and innovators to make their mark, and shape the next generation of in-car experience. Regardless of where the industry’s headed, mobility agents are fully equipped to roll with the punches – flexible, adaptable and customizable for whatever changes may arise. And the sooner automakers begin to design, develop and integrate their own distinct, branded mobility agents, the more of an advantage they’ll ascertain in the future of the industry.

For more information on Q for Automotive, our cognitive AI engine that helps brands create their own custom digital companions for mobility, subscribe to our newsletter at the bottom of this page, or contact us today at info@intuitionrobotics.com.

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