Social Rider: Digital Assistants

Dec 20, 2019 View Comments by

Social Rider: Digital Assistants

Humans are not the strongest, fastest, biggest, or most agile species. However, Homo sapiens excels at one particular feature more than any other creature that has ever lived: exchange of accurate, meaningful, and rich information by way of conversation, either verbal or via gestures or other body language. Some other species have the ability to communicate, but it’s nowhere near human capabilities.

In recent years, conversing with a machine agent, by means of voice or text, has become quite common. Digital assistant services such as Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple’s Siri are used extensively for retail, entertainment, home automation, and many other fields. Some car models now come with support for voice enabled operating systems that are designed for automotive use, specifically Google’s Android Auto or Apple’s CarPlay. These systems seamlessly integrate with the vehicle and with the driver’s smartphone. Instead of using a proprietary, clunky, and often costly maps application, the driver simply uses already installed smartphone navigation software and views it on the car’s display. Simple, free, and ingenious.

Unfortunately, and as usual, motorcycles are years behind the technology curve, but there is reason for optimism and hope. With high-powered on-board computers and colored screens becoming the new de facto standard on touring motorcycles, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay already exist with some high-end Honda, BMW, and Can-Am models. With time, the entire market may catch up, and mobile-based vehicle operating systems could become the new standard.

The Knowledge Problem
Yet there’s a fundamental problem. As riders, we would like to converse about topics that require deep knowledge of both the rider and the motorcycle.

Try to consult with Alexa on how to troubleshoot and fix a mechanical problem or ask her about the service records of your motorcycle. Actually, don’t bother, because it will be a waste of time. Digital assistants are designed to work within preprogrammed knowledge domains. Alexa has many skills and an understanding of Amazon’s retail business, and can answer common knowledge questions and play popular songs, but she doesn’t know anything about motorcycles and mechanics, which are part of a very specialized field. Even if a digital assistant was built to understand the world of motorcycling, there is a challenge for it to get access to the motorcycle’s real-time data or private information that only the rider has.

The knowledge problem is solvable but requires significant development efforts. A vendor, or perhaps an open source group, will need to develop such skills and integrate them with different data sources and knowledge bases that can include the manufacturer’s motorcycle user and technical manuals, motorcycle on-board computer, and personal user information.

Motorcycle Applications
Consider a RoadRUNNER assistant named Christa (just a random name …) that can help with many touring questions and tasks. The rider speaks into the helmet’s microphone, “Christa, find routes near me.”

The AI (artificial intelligence) already knows the rider’s GPS location, heading, and profile, and has internet access to RoadRUNNER’s route database. Based on those parameters, a list of best matching routes will be prepared and displayed on the TFT color screen with an audio prompt: “Yuval, here are the best routes in the area.”

The conversation can go on: “I want to ride the second route.” Navigation will then start automatically. It isn’t necessary to type or click buttons; everything is done through natural conversation.

Such an interaction would be a major leap forward compared with the way GPS devices and smartphones operate today. First and most importantly, the process is much safer. Hands are not leaving the handlebar and eyes are mostly kept focused on the road ahead rather than gazing at the screen for lengthy periods of time.

The second aspect is the much improved user experience. It takes considerably less time and energy to get stuff done. There are no frustrating and deeply nested menus or tiny buttons that don’t work well with gloves; nor is there time consuming usage of a keyboard.

Machine-Initiated Conversations
The previous conversation was initiated by the rider, but a scenario with an opposite direction is also interesting. The digital assistant could start a conversation as a response to some external event, such as something that just happened on the motorcycle. Consider the following examples:

Christa: “Attention. The front tire pressure has gone down to 12 psi, which is dangerously below normal levels.”
Christa: “You’re running low on gas. I suggest stopping in the upcoming gas station. Use Exit 59 in 5 miles.”

From that point onward, the dialog can continue with the rider taking some action, confirming, waving it off, or just politely saying thank you.

Machine learning algorithms will capture and analyze each response and then automatically self-adjust and incorporate the feedback, taking into account numerous parameters and preferences, in order to provide an optimal user experience. When a rider thanks the system or acknowledges a good experience, then it is a reinforcing feedback, and when the response is unsatisfactory, then the feedback would cause the machine learning to find alternate logical paths that may yield better results.

As for a rider’s personality, some people are chatty, while others prefer short messages. Humor, communication style, and culture also would affect the conversation.

Predictions
I predict that the motorcycle digital companion will appear on motorcycles in the near future. Hopefully, a healthy market of assistants will be created by various vendors specifically for use on motorcycles, allowing riders to select the skills we need. I’d surely love to have a Husqvarna 701 Enduro “tech guru” to consult with.

In the longer run, beyond the near to medium time range, communicating with an artificial intelligence entity can become a game changer. Imagine riding with a trusty companion and sidekick, a virtual combination of R2-D2 and C-3PO as it were, that knows you very well and has been there for you at all times over many years. Those long rides into the sunset may become quite interesting as human and machine socialize and quietly communicate and exchange ideas and thoughts within the helmet for many hours.

Get ready to talk to your motorcycle!

In the next article I will discuss how new and disruptive business models and trends are changing the motorcycle industry and shaping the new social rider.

Yuval Naveh is a lead architect for Publicis Groupe’s Marcel.ai digital assistant enterprise platform.

 

 

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