IBM wants you to have a smarter car (one you can talk to)


If you've been thinking a future that includes intelligent, connected cars just might be more hype than reality, a new partnership between Council Lead Partner IBM and carmaker BMW may cause you to think again. While IBM isn't building cars it does have extensive experience in the industry, and the two companies have high expectations that the systems they design will re-define the relationship between cars and their drivers, as our story below explains.

And a gentle reminder for city officials and urban planners working on smart city projects: If you aren't considering intelligent, connected cars (and the support systems they will require) as part of your planning strategy, now would be a very good time to start. — Doug Peeples


IBM and BMW really do want to build systems that allow drivers to talk to their cars, but it's not at all about novelty. It's about comfort and safety. The collaboration between the two companies is focused on ways for cars to learn driver preferences, driving habits and needs over time. And they will be getting a lot of help from IBM's Watson cognitive computing.

To develop what IBM calls "intelligent assistant functions," the company will invest $200 million in its global headquarters for Watson Internet of Things in Munich, Germany to ensure it is as advanced as possible and supportive of innovative collaborations. The investment is part of a broader effort to spend $3 billion to bring Watson's capabilities to the IoT arena.

"Watson is transforming how people interact with the physical world – helping to create safer, more efficient and personal experiences at home, at work and on the road," explained global head of Watson IoT Harriet Green. "With this agreement, our companies will work together to lay the foundations so that drivers can benefit from Watson's conversational and machine learning capabilities. Our insight shows that while the car will remain a fixture in personal transportation, the driving experience will change more over the next decade than at any other time of the automobile's existence."

The collaboration will mean BMW Group engineers will work alongside IBM consultants, technologists and developers at the Munich center. Four BMW hybrid sports cars will be on site to allow the companies to work with system prototypes. Watson will have the information from the car manual so drivers can ask the cars questions, but keep their eyes on the road when they do. The system the companies envision also will include weather data and real-time updates on traffic and road conditions (and the car's condition) that will enable the car to advise the driver.

A quick look at the near future
According to IBM, cars will become far more capable than we would have imagined not so many years ago. Here are a few key points the company identified as it studied the automotive industry:

  • Cars will be  able to diagnose and repair themselves (and repair other vehicles) without human assistance.
  • Cars are becoming increasingly connected to other vehicles and their surroundings.
  • Equipped with cognitive capabilities, cars will continue to learn.
  • The ability for cars to adapt to driver preferences covers a lot of ground, from the height of the seat to favorite destinations.
  • They also will be able to integrate with the IoT and connect traffic, weather and events happening around them.

And yes, IBM is one of many companies convinced that passenger vehicles are transitioning from a limited amount of automation to fully autonomous self-driving cars.

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Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.