TECH TALK

Voice technology coming to commuter cars


Published: Saturday, December 1, 2012 at 7:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 1, 2012 at 7:47 p.m.

One of my favorite shows growing up was the 1980s thrill ride known as "Knight Rider." No, not because of David Hasselhoff and his leather jacket, or even the car, which was more of a bad fiberglass knock-off of the Batmobile.

My childhood crush was for KITT, the sassy personality and brains behind the car.

Thirty years later, I am proud, well not too proud, to carry on quite the relationship with my own KITT. Actually, her name is SIRI, and just like Michael Knight, SIRI is the sassy personality behind my drama-filled missions of scheduling appointments, checking sports scores and even carrying on pointless conversations.

You can imagine the gleeful smile on my face this week when news broke that Chevrolet is incorporating a SIRI-powered "infotainment" system into its Spark and Sonic models. Whatever those are.

While no "smart car" would ever be complete without the dashing red light that adorned the hood of KITT, this is a step in the right direction.

Sure you can use SIRI now, but driving with your knee while asking her to update your Facebook status is beyond a bad idea.

General Motors is touting Apple's "Eyes Free" mode and will put activation controls on the steering wheel while deactivating the distraction of the iPhone's screen.

The possibilities are delicious. No, not just for making dinner reservations while making a U-turn, but also changing tunes while changing lanes, checking scores while checking your blind spot and even sending a text while sending positive vibes to the guy who just cut you off.

I will caution it might take a few updates before asking for directions, given the infamous failings of Apple maps program, unless you want to risk a harmless trip to the drive-thru taking you to the Grand Canyon instead.

Other manufacturers are said to be jumping on the modern-day "Knight Rider" bandwagon with Apple's technology, including Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Honda, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes and Toyota. Another major player, Ford, has said they will be rolling out their own version of the technology in their upcoming Fiesta models.

None of the forthcoming vehicles are anywhere near as cool as a modified Trans-Am with ejection seats, smoke screens or the ability to jump tall buildings with the push of a button. They actually represent the smaller, economical cars in each class.

This probably portends that the technology is rolling out half-baked and not ready for the prime time of the big-dollar customers. Still, be ready because it's coming.

Our commutes have been somewhat absent from the technological revolution that has defined nearly every other facet of existence. As a card-carrying member of the connected generation, my car is not much smarter than my dad's was or even my grandfather's.

It was just a matter of time before "big technology" found another bastion of existence to get us hooked to their ecosystems. Google, for one, is so far along with its driverless Toyota Prius that it recently gained approval from the California government to commence testing on state roads. Albeit with a human passenger and steering wheel. Google has already racked up 50,000 miles in Nevada with no human input.

Of course, Michael Knight and KITT had autopilot all figured out back in 1982.

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