Oct 19, 2017

Cars gave us autonomy. What happens when we give cars autonomy?

Over a hundred years ago, the Model T revolutionized the lives of everyday people and communities in America. Since then cars quickly became the most coveted and beloved technology that anyone owns. We love cars because they give us individual freedom to travel wherever we want to go whenever we want to go. Many of us even name our cars, are there any other technologies that people treat with this much adoration? I am not the type to name my vehicles, but each one has its own set of stories and experiences that I will always remember fondly, even if it was changing a tire on the side of the highway.

Cars have often been linked with the romantic ideals of freedom that we enjoy in America, but recently this sentiment has been changing. The success of the automobile has changed our perception of them as a source of pride and joy into a commodity that can be more of a hassle than a benefit. For those such as myself that live in cities, car ownership can be a burden due to the cost of ownership, limited availability of free parking, and the mental prowess it takes to read those parking signs. When my college friend, a die hard car enthusiast, moved from the suburbs to the city, he couldn’t justify owning his beloved car anymore and traded it for an electric skateboard out of practicality.

The romantic flame seems to be almost burnt out. It’s become more rare to hear of people giving their cars names, or treating them with the same respect and care as before. Due to increasing access to public transportation, ridesharing services, and adequate biking accommodations, more and more people are questioning whether or not their current car will also be their last.

Over the past decade, smartphones have overthrown cars as the technology that everyone cannot live without. The smartphone, paired with the internet, has created a greater access to individual freedom than cars ever did . Not only can we use these devices to communicate with each other faster than we can with cars, smartphones are also orders of magnitude cheaper than automobiles and within our reach at all times.

With smartphone hardware innovation seemingly nearing its peak, the advent of smart assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Now has become the new battleground for the connected, personal devices of the future. Smart assistants are still in their early stages and are often more frustrating to use than helpful, but the companies developing the technologies that power these assistants know the long term benefit of creating a more personal bond with consumers through personalization.

With smartphone hardware innovation nearing its pinnacle, automotive manufacturers are using the insights and technologies from the smartphone industry to shape the next generation of vehicles. Lithium ion batteries, touch screens, and speech-to-text analysis are just a few of the technologies advanced by smartphones making their way into cars today. The most game changing innovation though has been the advent of the autonomous car. The race to full autonomy has forced car manufacturers to rethink the entire concept of what a car is and how we will interact with them. Cars gave us autonomy, what happens when we give cars autonomy?


I am a veteran of numerous 12+ hour car rides that I never looked forward to. How will this change when the car drives itself? Would my 14-hour slog moving from Daytona Beach, FL to Cincinnati, OH have been an enjoyable and memorable experience if the car was responsible for getting me here safely? Absolutely! I may also have taken the longer path though more interesting roads than I-95.

Freeing people from driving vehicles themselves will not only revolutionize motorist and pedestrian safety, but also the things we do while in our cars. Most demonstrations of autonomy I have seen have been targeted to the business executive to make the cars of the future a mobile office. If car manufacturers want to keep up with smartphone innovation they too need to look at making vehicles a more personalized experience. At Spatial, we believe that the car of the future should be your personalized capsule to exploration.

We see a future of vehicles encouraging local tourism. By leveraging the power of our neighborhood and Point of Interest (POI) level data, anyone will be able to enjoy a personalized experience of their city or neighborhood in a unique way.
Currently we are testing how we can use our data to make the experience of exploring cities more personalized and convenient for tourists and urban explorers.

We started on this journey by first developing an omniscient, local cat named Hobbes. Hobbes allows you to discover POIs through natural language, just like you would ask a friend for recommendations. By combining natural language processing and the behavioral insights that we observe at POIs we can ask Hobbes rich questions that you would not be able to accomplish through services such as Google maps. To show off what he can do, I asked Hobbes to recommend romantic places to take my real and not made up wife.


Hobbes!You can see in the cards that the first choice, Zula, has a high romantic score, and wine is also listed as a unique feature (along with tapas!) of this restaurant. You can see Hobbes in action for yourself and use our shareable cards to plan your next romantic outing.

Because this is all done through natural language processing, we can easily incorporate speech to text services, and vice versa, to allow the vehicles of the future to engage in conversations with you about what experiences you want to have when you decide to go out for a romantic evening or just a quiet place to grab a cup of coffee.

Now that you have your destination, the next step of creating a personalized in-car experience for you is determining the route that is best for you. We have been experimenting with the concept of using the same methods that we use for POI and neighborhood personalities/insights and apply them to roads, public transportation, biking, and walking paths to personalize your journey. Are you a nature lover? We can use our data to suggest a route that would be based on affinity to nature rather than the quickest path. We can apply this to several other experiences, from the best paths to see architecture to a commute that has the most wifi access. Stay tuned for future updates on this.

With the advent of autonomy along with incorporating AI and machine learning techniques, automobiles are positioned to create rich personalized experiences for us. In the near future, cities will listen to its citizens and share that information to allow us to experience them how we see fit. Automobiles will use these insights to become an extension of ourselves and reclaim the same sense of exploration and adventure that they did in the past.

If you enjoyed reading this and want to find out more about how we are using our data in automotive, check out our website.

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