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Dad gets in the car and the radio is tuned to his favorite sports talk station. Mom gets behind the wheel and the latest episode of “Serial” begins playing. Their teenage daughter turns the ignition and a playlist she made on her iPhone starts streaming. This is part of the vision automakers have for the connected car – a dashboard interface that uses data and machine learning to adapt itself to each individual driver.

“The user experience will be evolving to be completely customized to what you, as the individual driver, want when you get into any particular car,” says Scott Burnell, Global Lead, Business Development & Partner Management at Ford Motor Co. Note that he did not specify just Ford vehicles. The company has made SmartDeviceLink—the technology that powers its infotainment systems—an open source platform that’s available to competing automakers. “So if you go from a Ford to a Toyota, you’ve got your content with you and it’s going to pop up in the same way that you would be accustomed to in your own vehicle.”

Ford, an early adopter in the evolving digital dashboard, also wants to help its customers customize the mix of audio content they hear – based on the length of their commute. “If the car knows that you’re going to be traveling for 15 minutes or 30 minutes or 45 minutes, why can't we deliver that amount of content? Well, we can,” Burnell offers. The first phase of content customization based on commute length might start with a visual display of content sorted by how long it takes to listen. The driver would select pieces from a content menu to match the length of their commute. And then, using machine learning and data collected from the user’s driving and listening history would allow the vehicle to develop a better understanding of the person to serve up a customized content mix. “You can automate that and make it simple. It just becomes part of their life,” Burnell says.

Whether the machine can do a better job of delivering the content customers want than radio program directors remains to be seen. But automakers and their data partners are quickly moving down the customized user experience path. “Cars will be built on an optimum user experience based on the time you will spend on each trip,” says Bryan Biniak, CEO and Founder of ConnectedTravel, which specializes in data fusion.

Looking further down the road, as cars become more autonomous, Biniak suggests that motorists will use their time in the vehicle to be more productive, engaged in activities like finding parking and gas, buying tickets, doing work or getting organized. Using voice activation, travelers could learn more about and even buy products that are advertised on the radio or make an impulse donation to the local NPR station.

Here Comes In-Car Voice Commerce

Connected Travel is launching a Voice Storefront for Honda and Acura vehicles called Dream Drive, which is projected into the vehicle dashboard by connecting the consumer’s iPhone or Android smartphone. Using a tokenized wallet and payment system integrated with major credit cards and a voice-based user experience, drivers and passengers can make purchases by telling the car what they want while they drive. For example, a driver could search, pay ahead and navigate to garage and street parking, search for gas and pay from the car at the pump by telling the car the pump number by voice; or search restaurants and book a reservations with Yelp. “This enables drivers to use their time in the vehicle for doing more than listening to audio or talking on the phone while they drive,” Biniak explains. “They now have the ability to discover and purchase things around them.”

The advent of voice commerce fundamentally changes the opportunity to engage consumers in vehicles, Biniak contends. “This paves the way for an evolution of broadcast and streaming media in vehicles when it is both actionable and transactable, including advertising.”

Automakers are eager to seize on the so-called “passenger economy,” where phones and tablets connect with the vehicle to enable ecommerce and greater interaction with audio ads.

“As we evolve toward the autonomous vehicle, the message I like to deliver is the content journey then becomes the same as the content journey in the living room,” Burnell says. The goal is to allow consumers to multitask their media consumption just as they do at home. “Originally there was only radio and now we’ve got screens and the screens are getting bigger,” Burnell says. “We’ve got video capability, we’ve got pipes to be able to bring data in through the modem. We’ve got the ability to connect the phone or the tablet. So when we get to the autonomous world, and the inside of the vehicle is just like the inside of the living room, everybody can be doing their own thing and enjoying their own stuff.”—Paul Heine