It’s illegal to use a handheld phone or device while driving in the UK, as the distraction makes life a lot more dangerous for you, your passengers and any other road users or pedestrians around.
But drivers still want to make calls, check schedules, adjust sat-navs or switch playlists without taking their hands off the wheel or eyes off the road. So in recent years car manufacturers have been building voice-command technology into their vehicles.
The technology is becoming ever more sophisticated and the latest versions – such as those that came on the market in 2018 from Audi and Mercedes, and the one BMW is introducing in its 2019 vehicles – use artificial intelligence to better recognise and respond to conversational speech rather than a few predetermined phrases.
BMW is touting its ‘Intelligent Personal Assistant’ system as an in-car AI companion, similar to the Siri and Alexa systems that have found their way into our phones and homes. So asking: “Hey BMW, how does the high-beam assist work?” prompts the BMW assistant to explain how the car automatically switches between full-beam and dipped lights on unlit roads when it senses other vehicles approaching. Similarly, saying: “Hey BMW, I’m tired”, activates a range of lighting, music and temperature functions to help keep you alert.
Give the BMW assistant access to your calendar and contacts and it’s said to be able to find a suitable parking spot at your next destination. Perhaps most importantly, though, you can also program it to respond to a name other than ‘BMW’.
Before going freelance, Rob spent almost four years on staff at BBC Science Focus magazine subediting news, features and reviews. He's now a freelance journalist and has written about everything from electric cars to decomposing bodies… although space and speed are what fascinate him most.