There's something unnerving about talking cars. When a machine tells you something you haven't figured out on your own, another nail gets driven into the coffin of human fallibility.
Does your car really need to flaunt its intellect by declaring that "your door is ajar," or will a simple light on the dashboard suffice? It's not too farfetched to imagine a frustrated driver of the future (a la 2001: A Space Odyssey) demanding, "Open the pod door, HAL," to which the insufferably superior computer simply states, "Sorry, Dave. I can't do that."
Experiments with talking cars have been dubious to say the least. But if your car could tell you something truly useful, something you couldn't discern for yourself, well, that might be worthwhile.
IBM might be on to something. It introduces IVIS, or In-Vehicle Information System. It's a wireless computing technology that links vehicles to the Internet and allows for hands-free phone dialing and Web browsing. Once the infrastructure is ready, the system also will be able to provide real-time route guidance to get around horrific traffic jams.
But for now, the most useful aspect of IVIS is its ability to provide remote vehicle diagnostics. The system connects to both the vehicle network bus as well as the Internet, allowing a complete remote diagnostic evaluation of a vehicle without having to find a properly equipped garage.
"You can do everything the same as if you were pulling into the dealership," says David Loose, consulting I/T architect of Automobile Network Solutions at IBM. "We can take a complete snapshot of a running engine."
It takes about 30 seconds to run a full analysis, via the Internet, that includes the cooling system, emissions, climate control and transmission. In the event service is required, the driver can use the Web to schedule an appointment with a dealer.
Mr. Loose demonstrates the system on a prototype. As he artificially raises the engine temperature, IVIS instantly detects the change and notifies the driver by voice and with a warning that appears on an LCD screen in the instrument panel.
As the engine temperature continues to rise, the warnings become more forceful. "Uh-oh," the computer declares bluntly. "Your engine temperature is dangerously high." IVIS urges the driver to have the vehicle serviced immediately.
In another demonstration, Mr. Loose interrupts the fuel injector sequence, prompting IVIS to tell the driver, "Excuse me, engine cylinder two is not firing properly." Once again, service is encouraged.
IBM is marketing IVIS to dealers, and the product was highlighted at the National Automobile Dealers Assn. expo earlier this year. IBM's partners for the system are Intel Corp. and Motorola.
The manufacturer's cost for the microphone, processor, screen, memory, GPS connection and software is estimated at less than $250. OEMs may offer some aspects of IVIS as early as next year.
No, IVIS won't open the pod door.