How Conversational AI Makes In-Car Infotainment Safer

When we talk about the benefits of conversational AI, it’s normally about making life faster and easier for people to interact with technology. But last week, in conjunction with the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), we looked at totally different benefit — safety.

With driver distraction estimated to be a factor in up to 30% of vehicle collisions across Europe, IAM Roadsmart, FIA Road Safety and Rees Jeffreys Road Fund commissioned the TRL to look at the impact of in-vehicle infotainment systems such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay on driving performance.

Evidence shows that driver distraction levels are much higher when using touch screen technologies compared to voice activated systems. Key findings in the report show that participants underestimated the time they thought they spent looking away from the road when engaging via touch control.

“Driver distraction is widely recognised as an important road safety issue; the more attention a driver diverts away from the main driving task, the more their driving behaviour will be negatively affected,” says Dr Neale Kinnear, Head of Behavioural Science at TRL. “The results of this study clearly show that touch control infotainment systems are highly distracting to drivers, far more so than voice activated systems. However, even current voice control systems increase drivers’ reaction times and remains a concern for road safety.”

Currently, voice control systems only understand a set of key commands. What’s required are speech enabled interfaces that operate at a complex level.

According to the TRL, by improving voice activated systems through the use of such solutions as conversational artificial intelligence, it’s possible to make infotainment systems less distracting for drivers. Because of the flexibility offered by conversational AI, this remit will widen to include all forms of dialogue to enable a versatile, natural interaction. Once this is achieved, in-car voice control systems will be revolutionised.

The TRL is recommending that that more work is put into developing a framework for testing and improving the human factors of such systems. This includes improving voice activation as a method of control, as this has the opportunity to greatly reduce the workload on a driver thanks to innovations being made in conversational AI.

TRL would like to see safety standards improved around infotainment systems, not just by their definition, but also through the harmonisation of standards across the entire transport sector.

I was fortunate enough to be a part of a recent online event with the TRL to talk about these issues. You can see my part of my presentation below, where I speak about how conversational AI is changing in-car systems and some of the challenges car manufacturers faced up until recently.

There is no doubt that conversational AI will be the defining technology of the next decade. As it becomes smarter, faster and more advanced, AI will be of immense benefit to in-vehicle systems by allowing more complex user demands to be understood and fulfilled, as well as enabling multi-directional interaction to occur between the system and the consumer.