Smart cars have arrived in India, and you can talk to them like James Bond would.
For most of us, smart cars have been an integral part of teenage superhero fantasies. James Bond and later the Fast & Furious series of movies gave cars superhuman powers, making them cool and desirable. Sadly, all of it was only on-screen. On roads, you had the boring old metallic boxes that, at best would change gears automatically or activate the wiper if a few drops of water fell on the screen. Thankfully, things are changing in 2019.
While Tesla has been working for years on a concept car that would run on its own, the real-world readiness of such an intelligent vehicle seems to be in distant la la land. However, manufacturers are smartening the insides of your car, by literally making the car ‘listen’ to you. Morris Garages’ MG Hector is a fine example of this. The British automobile manufacturer is all set to launch the Hector, which is touted as India’s first Internet car. What this means is that the instrument panel is voice-enabled, and does a variety of things, that would otherwise require physical presence or clicking a few buttons.
At the heart of Hector’s intelligence is its 10.5 inches ‘head unit’, which is essentially the console screen on your dashboard. This head unit is powered by a custom solution called iSmart Next Gen, that works on a personalised operating system created by MG, on which maps, navigation systems, voice assistants, pre-loaded infotainment and concierge services are embedded. Unlike other car connectivity systems, iSmart also supports Over The Air (OTA) updates.
We took a close look at how this works, and here are a few things that impressed us — the system comes with an in-built machine-to-machine (M2M) eSIM from Airtel. It is 5G ready, making this solution the first-of-its-kind on Indian roads. An M2M SIM essentially connects the head unit with your smart phone or any other device, while you are driving. Since the SIM does not need to make calls, it jumps from tower to tower quickly without loss of connectivity. What is really thrilling is the fact that OTA updates happen on the fly, while you drive. Till now, Indian car users had to get their infotainment systems updated at the service centre. MG eliminates this hassle, and ensures that the OTA mechanism is able to push updated content, especially maps at regular intervals.
MG Hector has also enabled over 100 voice commands, with its AI-based voice assistant... everything from opening sunroofs to audio controls to air conditioning and ignitions, even while you are not inside your car, using the MG mobile app. The AI engine learns as you go, figuring out your driving habits, Indian accents, and entertainment consumption.
MG has tied up with leading technology partners for automating the Hector, including TomTom for maps, Cisco for connectivity, Microsoft for security, Nuance for language processing, SAP for dealer and user experience, and Gaana for in-car entertainment. The car is slated to be launched soon.