Here’s one way to imagine the dramatic developments in the growing connected-vehicle ecosystem, and how much is likely to change in a short time: One’s children and grandchildren might not ever know what a “backseat driver” means. If they do, that term stands a good chance of losing its negative connotations, all thanks to digital technology.
That’s because voice-assistant technology — already a big hit among first adopters, and quickly moving further into the mainstream, according to most signs — promises to stand as a major part of the emerging connected-vehicle ecosystem (and, by extension, that includes smart homes and the Internet of Things [IoT]).
Granted, that concept is not breaking news, but the role that voice will play in the lives of commuters and other drivers is becoming clearer. In a new PYMNTS podcast, Karen Webster and Don Frieden, CEO of P97 Networks, not only map out that future, but describe the main, immediate challenges that will need to be overcome.
The backdrop of that conversation: the data points that show how much it matters. According to recent PYMNTS research, done in collaboration with P97, the U.S. commute is a contextual commerce channel worth $230 billion a year in commuter-inspired purchases. That’s not all, though. It’s a connected commuter experience that has increased more than 8 percent since last year.
The battle for dominance in this emerging connected-vehicle landscape is a complicated, multiple-part effort that includes payment, commerce and other tech firms, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and operating system providers. During the podcast, Webster cut straight to the point of what the role and influence of voice technology will likely be in this new world.
Does consumers’ use of Alexa in the car guarantee the use of Alexa in the home, and vice versa? Do the sides that consumers choose now — when it comes to voice and operating systems — essentially lock them into a particular system, even as the connected-vehicle ecosystem keeps developing?
Frieden didn’t go that far, though he didn’t bat down the proposal, either. The voice technology that “makes life easier for consumers” will, more or less, govern their further use and deployments of such technology in the years to come. In addition, those consumer choices will be “based on platforms tied to the [desired] tasks, or which offer the best services.”
Looking at it one way, his statements allow for much wiggle room — and for providers of such technology to up their games, and make aggressive plays for consumers in an area that remains relatively open to such development. As of yet, there is “limited data and consumer feedback” on this particular topic of the connected-vehicle future, he said. Even though the early adopters have made their choices about what voice devices and software to place on their kitchen counters, desks and elsewhere, most people have not reached that point (nor have they probably thought too much about it yet — at least, not specifically).
Sooner or later, though, those decisions will come. Voice seems to stand as one of the few true no-brainers in life, a way to provide payment and commerce services without drivers having to let go of their steering wheels or compromise their safety (at least, relative to texting and touch screens).
While many drivers, no doubt, like the sense of quiet alone time during the commute (a chance to collect one’s thoughts, daydream or listen to music), even those consumers will be hard-pressed to avoid the temptation of pre-ordering (and pre-paying for) a cup of coffee — or some gas, a gallon of milk from the convenience store (delivered to one’s car) or a family dinner from a fast-casual restaurant on the way home. Voice-assistant technology promises to become a positive force of (virtual) backseat driving, unlike that annoying cousin who always insisted on some silly shortcut (voice tech combined with GPS will likely do a much better job), or the father who also criticized how quickly one took speed bumps (voice tech could also tell one to slow down, but perhaps in a gentler way, devoid of personal animosity).
According to Frieden, apps are good, but voice-assistant technology will be better, especially for connected vehicles. “Apps are not the same experience of communication” as voice technology, he told Webster. Sure, drivers using voice “realize they are not really speaking to a person, but with the amount of intelligence being built into the platforms, it can feel like you are speaking to a person.”
Other Voice Advantages
Voice also offers another advantage, one that will power its increasing role in the connected-vehicle ecosystem. Voice is more about new and better developed skills, as opposed to hardware upgrades, he said, and consumers can access those voice-assistant tools over the cloud, which promotes speedy deployments of new (and much more personalized) features.
Just consider this general idea that came from the PYMNTS conversation, one that teases the vital role voice can play in the world of connected vehicles: A commuter on the way to work, before leaving the house, can tell a voice-assistant device that the car needs gas. The voice system can then calculate the time it will take to reach a particular gas station — maybe road construction makes an otherwise popular route undesirable, or maybe the commuter is part of a loyalty program with a specific fuel provider — before the driver pulls out of the garage in the morning.
No matter what happens with voice (and make no mistake, it’s coming along quickly), the common denominator for this emerging ecosystem is “payments and identity,” Frieden said. “There is no reason a consumer should even worry about the payment method” when it comes to commerce conducted from inside the vehicle. “We tokenize it, and it’s on file.”
Get ready to embrace a new definition of backseat driving. If things go smoothly with connected vehicles over the coming years, the backseat driver — the digital one, of course; a voice assistant that will seem more lifelike as the technology improves — might become associated with efficiency, safety and top-notch driving guidance.