As evidenced by Volvo's newly announced tie-up with the Microsoft Band 2 fitness tracking wearable, car manufacturers are starting to explore how wearable devices will help drivers. The On Call app brings voice commands, spoken into the Band 2, into the mix. It'll allow you to pass an address from your smartphone's agenda right to your Volvo's nav system, or to preheat your car. Eventually, Volvo would like your car to learn things about your routines, and communicate back to you – or even, improvise to help you wake up earlier to avoid that traffic that might make you late.
Manufacturers seem to be developing a consensus that vehicles should be taking on some of a wearable's functionality.
Do you need to buy a device, like the $249 Band 2, and always wear it to have these sorts of interactions with your car? Despite the emphasis on wearables, CES 2016 has also given us a glimmer of a vehicle future that cuts out the wearable middleman entirely. Take Audi's new Fit Driver project. The goal is to reduce driver stress levels, prevent driver fatigue, and provide a relaxing interior environment by adjusting cabin elements like seat massage, climate control, and even the interior lighting. While it focuses on a wearable device to monitor heart rate and skin temperature, the Audi itself will use on-board sensors to examine driving style and breathing rate as well as external conditions – the weather, traffic, that sort of thing. Could the seats measure skin temperature? Could the seatbelt measure heart rate? Seems like Audi might not need the wearable at all – the car's already doing most of the work.
Whether there's a device on a driver's wrist or not, manufacturers seem to be developing a consensus that vehicles should be taking on some of a wearable's functionality. The car should know your agenda, when you normally go to work (so it can condition the cabin) and when you come home (to think about how long it'll have plugged in to recharge, for example) – and moreover, when that agenda involves driving so it can plot an efficient route. Think about what EVs like the Tesla, already do when you enter a destination into the nav system, like plan your charging stops.
Take that a step further. BMW wants your car to talk to your smart home; at the relevant point in your evening commute, the smart thermostat in the house kicks on. Ford just signed a deal with Amazon to use the Echo voice recognition software to control the in-car Sync infotainment system, and use the Echo device in the house to remotely start the car. In this system, there's no wearable required. Amazon's devices, like the Fire tablet series, are designed to funnel users into the Amazon online purchasing environment, to buy everything the company sells, both physical and digital. It wouldn't be too hard for a car linked to Amazon's network to remind the driver that it's time to reorder wiper blades – and perhaps ask you if you'd like to have them shipped to your door right away.
The future won't require a specific device on your wrist to tell your car to do something – all your devices will have that functionality, and it'll be a two-way street.
None of these examples are far-fetched, and many are feasible today, if a company decided to develop them fully. So while CES 2016 seems like it previews a future in which wearables are required to give drivers new ways to interact with their cars, wearables will be a blip. The future won't require a specific device on your wrist to tell your car to do something – all your devices will have that functionality, and it'll be a two-way street. Sitting in your autonomous car on the way to work, you'll also be sitting in your fitness tracker, your awareness and distractedness monitor, your personal agenda assistant, your GPS device, and your home theater.
Forget wearables – you'll be wearing the entire car.