Are you old enough to remember KITT from the Knight Rider TV series that ran from 1982 to 1986? If you are, that is great. If you are not and had to suffer through the 2008 remake with Justin Bruening as Michael and Val Kilmer as the voice of KITT – I’m sorry for you.
The original KITT was awesome – a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am driven by David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight and equipped with a personal assistant voiced by William Daniels (who also played Mr. Feeny in Boy Meets World). KITT featured an autopilot for autonomous control, a turbo-boost button for rapid acceleration and tractor-trailer jumping and a 300 mph top speed that got Michael to crime scenes in time to save the day. Red Harden built KITT – he’s also the guy behind the General Lee and Dragula from the Munsters. Today, you’ll find Red at his Masters Auto Body Collision Repair shop in Bakersfield, California.
KITT is an important piece of automotive history because of Knight Rider’s prescience in projecting the future of vehicle-to-driver interaction. Thirty-five years before BMW introduced Amazon’s Alexa as an automotive personal assistant, KITT had been there, done that. (I suppose you could point to the “My Mother the Car” series from 1965 as an earlier example of car-to-driver interaction but that show had Jerry Van Dyke talking to his deceased mother who had inhabited a 1928 Porter – it doesn’t really qualify as a personal assistant example in my book.)
At Schwartz Advisors, we see the rise of personal assistant artificial intelligence technology as an emerging feature of automotive service:
- Apple has Siri
- Amazon has the Echo with Alexa
- Microsoft has Cortana
- Google has Google Assistant (Google takes the straight forward approach to branding)
Note that we distinguish between “assistance” and “artificial intelligence (AI) assistants” to be clear that services like GM’s OnStar, BMW Assist, Lexus Enform, Mercedes-Benz mbrace and many others all provide personal services and may, in fact, provide a long list of apps for digital interaction, but we are focusing on the emerging use of AI and how it may change our every day routines on the shop floor and in the distribution warehouse.
BMW’s goal in introducing Alexa is to augment its ConnectedDrive experience by adding control of vehicle functions from outside the car and ultimately control vehicle functions inside the car as well. An outside function might be a voice command to remotely lock the doors or start the car on a cold day. A future application might include telling your autonomous car where you want to go. The secret sauce with Alexa is its ability to understand common English (or other languages) phraseology, freeing the user from using preset or unique commands.
The system also has the ability to learn about you through interaction over time so your conversation with Alexa can become very intuitive and efficient. We could imagine a future conversation that goes something like this:
Vehicle starts –
Alexa: “Good morning, Tom. I’ll do a quick scan of vehicle health … Your vehicle is fully functional. You had an ECU update overnight to reset some security functions. Your tires are up to pressure and your oil quality sensors show 2,500 miles until your next oil change. A note of caution: the outside temperature is 28 degrees Fahrenheit this morning so be aware of road surfaces that may be slippery.”
Tom: “Alexa, please set reservations for dinner tomorrow evening at 7 for 2 at 888 Restorante on Laurel Street in San Carlos and place that on my calendar and my wife’s calendar. Alert me if the reservations are not possible at 7 and suggest alternatives.”
During the drive to work, a DTC alert occurs and the Check Engine light on the dash illuminates –
Alexa: “The Check Engine light is in response to trouble code alert P0133 – it indicates a slow response from an oxygen sensor on your engine. You can continue to drive the car but you should schedule service soon to check for one or more problems including:
- A faulty oxygen sensor
- A wiring connection problem
- An exhaust leak
Do you want me to schedule a shop visit with your primary repair shop, Vancea Auto in San Carlos?”
Tom: Yes, please set an appointment for Thursday and tell Maria I will drop the car off Wednesday evening with the key drop.”
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Tom continues his drive to work.
Alexa connects with Vancea to learn that an appointment for 2 PM on Thursday will work for Tom’s vehicle to be checked for the DTC. Vancea’s primary parts supplier also is alerted that an oxygen sensor related repair is now scheduled for Tom’s 2013 Ford Focus. Vancea is informed via its WD portal that the O2 sensor is in stock and available for Uber delivery on demand from Vancea.
Tom: “Alexa, search for Country Joe and the Fish reunion concert.”
Alexa: “I find no schedule for any Country Joe and the Fish performances in the next 12 months, but will set an alert should any reunion be announced.”
Alexa: “Your dinner reservations for 7 PM Tuesday February 21st at 888 Restorante are set.”
The chances of this Tom and Alexa conversation happening in the near future? 95 percent.
A Country Joe and the Fish reunion? .01 percent
Which means, there’s a chance.
About Schwartz Advisors
Derek Kaufman is a managing partner at Schwartz Advisors (SA). SA is a team of highly experienced auto aftermarket experts working with clients in corporate growth projects and both buy-side and sell-side merger and acquisition activities. As part of its growth consulting work, SA keeps current with the emerging technologies and business models that will drive the future supply of automotive parts and service.