Computers on wheels – don’t be intimidated

The advent of Artificial Intelligence into the world we live in is furiously gaining momentum, where products like Google Duplex, Amazon Alexa, and others are finding residence in more and more mobility applications.

These AI-related processes aim to provide the consumer with seamless interactions with service providers. Ultimately the goal is to provide consumers with integrated environments and products.  In the automotive industry the trend is moving that way too.

Everyday cars are becoming more and more technologically advanced. But, says Hedley Judd, National Director of the Tyre, Equipment, Parts Association (TEPA), a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), this should not be intimidating but rather exciting news for motorists.

“When we think technology, we think laptops, cell phones, TV sets etc. What’s interesting is that much of the technology in motor vehicles is comparable to the technology in these types of items,” says Judd. The motor vehicle has an Engine Control Unit (ECU), Body Control Module (BCM), screens of different types, and of course the communication system to the outside world, either via a WIFI-linked hotspot or a Bluetooth link to the cell network. “The ECU and the BCM are both effectively computers with processors and memory that are programmed to function according to set rules depending on the external input from the engine or the vehicle via the driver. The screens referred to are the infotainment screen and nowadays in many vehicles the instrument cluster has become a computer-like screen as well. Finally, the communication language would be understandable to the drivers of today’s vehicles.”

When examining the modern home there are accessories which may or may not be linked to a computer system or may just be transmitting information continuously, which is accessed at random when required. These are accessories such as security alarms, security cameras, light controls, geyser controls, irrigation systems, and entertainment controls to mention only a few of the possibilities. “Again, if this analogy is transposed with the motor vehicle many of the same technology possibilities apply,” says Judd.

The modern motor vehicle has cameras in various locations all performing different functions. These form part of the advanced driver assistance system (ADAS). These cameras are all feeding information (data) to one of the onboard computers which in turn then provide warnings and or even adjustments to the vehicle. This ADAS system controls functions like Lane Drift assist, proximity alerts, rain sensing, road conditions, and vehicle following distances for autonomous braking and or brake warning alerts – even effective when reversing with an integrated reversing camera that can apply braking as well. “The vehicles lights are controlled by the BCM according to light sensors that send messages to the BCM to manage the lighting. The majority of modern vehicles also have alarm systems which are integrated to the ECU and BCM in efforts to reduce unwanted joy rides,” he explains.

The data is continuously stored by the ECU and BCM units. Judd says this is where, when coupled to the external world via a connection of some description, your vehicle is then able to provide you with reactive information such as brakes or tyres that need replacing, or that the vehicle needs a service. “Your vehicle will then assist you in scheduling the appointments for the repairs or servicing.”

“The following scenario may very well play out:

The driver is alerted to the need to take action. If the driver refuses a repeat alert is set for a later time. If the driver agrees then the vehicle communicates with the home computer to establish a suitable time slot for the work based upon prior knowledge of the typical duration of the work required. The home computer that is connected to an interactive device, then calls the service provider and sets up the appointment for the work to be done.

Next part of the technology is when the vehicle arrives at the workshop. Instead of a person at the counter there is an automated AI system (eg Google Duplex) that will welcome the driver, confirm the details and open the job card for the work to be done.

Once the work is done the AI system will invoice the job to the driver and confirm that the car is ready for collection either by a call or text message. When the driver collects the car the AI system will confirm the method of payment and complete the transaction,” says Judd.

In essence, the vehicle knows when it needs attention and, with the drivers consent, uses connectivity with a linked system to schedule, book and confirm the appointment for the work to be done. The AI system in the workshop takes control of the job and ensures all parts are available in advance and then manages the customer interaction both inbound and outbound. The vehicle’s on-board computer is finally informed by the AI system of the work performed and the data is reset for the next period. The AI system will then follow-up with a customer satisfaction survey after a set period to generate data on the service levels of the business.

“This is a quick example of how systems integrate and how similar systems really are. The main difference lies in the content of the data and how it is used and managed at the time. While it may seem intimidating, there’s no doubt that this technology will streamline and simplify processes. Technology it is set to bring about change in all our lives and the sooner it is understood by the many the less vulnerable the many may feel,” he concludes.