In Brief
Toyota will begin testing its autonomous cars in 2020, which will be able to converse with their drivers to enhance the driving experience. The automaker's cars will be able to track a user's preferences, emotions, habits, and more.

Bonding With Your Car

Come 2020, Toyota will begin testing its own self-driving electric cars. However, instead of simply being autonomous, they’ll also come equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) capable of having a back-and-forth conversation with the driver.

The automaker previewed their idea for intelligent talking cars at the beginning of the year, during the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Toyota showed off its Concept-i, which has an AI nicknamed “Yui,” at the core of its functionality. Yui is expected to provide a number of benefits, as well as monitor the driver’s driving patterns, attentiveness, schedule, and more.

“The interface begins with the visual representation of Yui, designed to communicate across cultures to a global audience,” explained Toyota in a press release at the time. “With Yui’s home centered on the dashboard, Concept-i’s interior emanates around the driver and passenger side and throughout the vehicle in sweeping lines, with interior shapes designed to enhance Yui’s ability to use light, sound and even touch to communicate critical information.”

As reported by Reuters, Toyota is committed to forming a relationship between driver and AI as it competes with other car manufacturers and tech companies, who have also invested in self-driving cars and AI. To that end, Toyota will invest $1 billion into advancing development on both concepts between now and 2020.

“By using AI technology, we want to expand and enhance the driving experience, making cars an object of affection again,” said Makoto Okabe, general manager of Toyota’s EV business planning division.

Outdoing the Competition

Of course, Toyota isn’t the first company that wants to use AI to augment the driving experience. Last July, Honda announced it would be partnering with Softbank to look into using AI to improve car safety. Then, in December, it unveiled its Emotion Engine, a group of AI technologies capable of exhibiting emotions that could aid drivers, such as by providing weather or traffic information in a cheerful voice.

Ford, meanwhile, invested in Argo AI back in February to boost its own AI capabilities in time for the launch of its first autonomous car in 2021. General Motors (GM) has also invested in AI startups for the some purposes, such as Nauto, which has also received funding from BMW.

“In pursuit of the profoundly transformational impact autonomous vehicle technology can have on business and society, we’ll now more rapidly be able to gather the billions more miles of real driving experience and data required to get a precise understanding of how the best drivers behave behind the wheel,” said Nauto CEO Stefan Heck in July.

Toyota will certainly have its work cut out for it when its self-driving cars are fully operational. Next to electric cars, automakers are becoming more invested in autonomous vehicles, which can only strengthen competition and lead to more innovative designs. AI capable of bonding with the driver is one idea to come from competition; it will be interesting to see what other concepts automakers pursue to come out on top.