A modern vehicle is more than a mode of transportation, they are mobile living spaces — Govindan Soundararajan, Continental

In an interview with Govindan Soundararajan, the Head of Artificial Intelligence & Software, at Continental Automotive India, we get to know more about how Artificial Intelligence is becoming an important part of the automobile world.

govindan soundararajan continental

Cars are getting smarter by the day. A modern car can offer several tech features such as connectivity, entertainment, and at times, even a personal assistant. The MG Astor was the first vehicle to feature a PA, however, other carmakers are looking at possibilities. This has opened up a path for automotive component manufacturers to develop and fine-tune the system. One such company exploring possibilities is Continental Automotive.

Continental is exploring Artificial Intelligence on a large scale, and AI-related features help simplify tasks. However, in addition to this, AI chatbots help enhance user experience in the automotive setup. To know more, we spoke to Govindan Soundararajan, the Head of Artificial Intelligence & Software, at Continental Automotive India.

How important is a Personal Assistant in a car?

Vehicles of today are more than just a mode of transportation. They are becoming “mobile living spaces”. A product like “Personal Assistant” has become a necessary and important feature in the vehicle.

A Personal Assistant can provide relevant information in a non-distractive manner to the driver & co passengers. The “PA” can deliver personalized experiences and hence enhances the comfort & drive for the people. For example, to set or change the destination while the vehicle is in motion, the driver needs to take his eyes off the road and make the required changes on the navigation system. This could create a potentially dangerous situation leading to an accident. However, with onboard Personal Assistant, the driver can easily converse and tell the PA to change the destination while his mind and the eyes are firmly focused on driving safely.

What features can be integrated into an AI Chatbot in a vehicle?

There are two kinds of AI Chatbot, in general – text & voice chatbots. Some chatbots could do both functions. These chatbots are also called by different names such as Digital Companion or Digital / Personal Assistant or simply AI Bot.

Text chatbots require a person to type text via an UI on an onboard device to get a required service. This is not user friendly, is potentially dangerous & shall cause distraction to the driver and to other people in the vehicle. Hence text chatbots are not desirable in the vehicle. Voice Chatbot, Digital Assistant, Personal Assistant is equipped to understand the voice commands of the person and can respond to the requests. The voice conversation does not distract the driver so much and he can continue to focus on driving. Hence voice Chatbots/Assistants are the preferred devices in the vehicle.

Artificial Intelligence technologies bring a wide variety of features, functions, applications in the vehicle onboard devices such as infotainment display. These applications could understand individual preferences and shall deliver several personalized services to the user. The functions / applications can be enabled by the Digital Voice Assistant via voice commands. Some examples of features / functions that can be serviced via AI Chatbot are:

– Adjusting the in-cabin temperature based on outside weather conditions
– Playing the requested music on the onboard radio, music app or from the internet
– Change / Set a new destination on the map application as required
– Dynamically change / modify the route map based on weather, traffic conditions
– Search for the nearest gas station, restaurant, or a tourist information on the highway
– Search for weather conditions and provide relevant information to the driver
– Understand the environment, road conditions and provide relevant information

These are just some of the features that can be provided by AI Chatbot. In general, there could be many other useful features that could be integrated.

The AI chatbot shall be trained to understand and learn the preferences and can provide personalised experiences to the driver. The PA shall adapt to the driver behavior over a period. It shall be trained to understand, detect the emotions of the driver, and can provide relevant services such as playing a new music that is based on the current emotion or the mood of the driver.

Can AI Chatbots make vehicles safer, for example, let the driver know when to slow down or let them know their driving pattern? What else is it capable of?

AI Chatbot makes it easier for the driver by enabling several services via voice commands. This frees the driver from using his hands to perform certain actions on the onboard devices that could potentially distract the driver leading to accidents. This is one of the important features that makes the vehicle safer.

There are several sensors such as camera, radar, lidar and other sensors that are placed in the inside & on the exterior of the vehicle. These sensors provide a variety of data to the onboard vehicle hardware. In some vehicles, the hardware could reside in the cloud. The sensor data could be road, weather conditions, traffic situation, route map and other data. The onboard high-performance hardware & software shall process this information and provide the required commands to other hardware to perform some actions. AI Chatbot / Digital Companion devices can be integrated with relevant hardware and can provide relevant, meaningful, useful information to the driver. As an example, if there is a rainy weather condition ahead , the bot can provide such information to the driver and suggest that he take necessary precautions while driving.

Cameras could be positioned to continuously capture the facial expressions of the driver. Based on the driver expressions, the AI Bot can be trained to detect the emotions and create personalized experiences or in extreme cases, take any relevant actions that may be required to secure the safety of the driver / vehicle.

The interface between the human driver and the digital companion is the voice or human speech command. The AI algorithms in the AI Chatbot are designed to understand human speech and convert it as a series of required actions that are performed by the relevant hardware & software systems. The results are conveyed back to the AI Chatbot that translates the received information into appropriate voice to the driver.

Can an AI Chatbot in a car become a distraction when driving?

The 2020 report published by the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) shows that driver distractions levels are much higher when using touch screen technologies than compared to the voice. This is one of the critical road safety issues. The more the attention is diverted from the driving, the more the driving behaviour will be impacted negatively. The voice enabled AI Chatbot shall be much safer when compared to text or touch screen technologies.

Can the Chatbot feature be used to diagnose car trouble, or relay the information to technicians when something is detected?

Any type of sensor can be placed inside the vehicle that can be designed to detect an issue with the vehicle. Onboard diagnostics hardware shall analyse the received sensor data and relay appropriate information via AI Chatbot to the driver. In general, AI Chatbot could be integrated with hardware.

When developing AI personal assistant tech for India, what are some challenges compared to global markets?

India is a value-driven market. While some premium and luxury vehicles already offer digital assistants in India, we would need to innovate and make these devices cost- effective to be able to roll out the technology on a large scale. A major part of functionalities performed by a digital assistant requires connectivity, while availability of infrastructure could also be a challenge for wide adoption of the technology.

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