Imagine a long, hard day ahead at work. You've just bought your first car, it's the end of the month and your bank balance is running low. In such a situation, when you need to reach office early and make an important presentation, pay your car's EMI and fill it up with gas as well, we imagine that you'd be pretty stressed out. The engineers in Honda's research division seem to have shared similar thoughts, and in future, it hopes that this car you'd buy will not just be a vehicle to take you between places, but a companion that would keep a track of your work and personal lives, gauge your emotions to predict routes and other activities in between, and even make money for you. This is the Honda Automated Network Assistant, or 'Hana'.
Hi there, Hana
Think of Hana as a smarter Siri, for cars. Announced at the Consumer Electronics Show 2017 as part of the Honda NeuV, Hana's prime feature is being touted as its emotion recognition powers. The NeuV, which stands for New Electric Urban Vehicle, is a small pod with two seats, storage space behind the seats, and an electric skateboard for short, mid-commute detours to reach narrow alleys where the car cannot go. The NeuV is, of course, a fully electric and autonomous vehicle, and has a sweeping, curved display that takes up the entire dashboard space. This display is shared between the two riders in the car, and is accessible to both the driver and the rider. It is here that Hana resides.
Hana's autonomous ride-sharing interface
Essentially, Hana is an artificially intelligent digital assistant fed with an interior camera and sensors, machine learning and deep learning algorithms, and visual and natural language processing computers. When one buys the NeuV (or any other Honda car equipped with it), Hana begins as a clean slate, and is gradually fed with information about its owner, the frequented routes, regular destinations, time and distance detailing, usual schedule of travel, and other necessary bit of information. This allows it to become intelligent, and in process, become a complete digital assistant that can be accessed from a wide range of connected devices. Hana is also equipped with an inventory of human face anatomy and muscle movements, which allows it to recognise emotions, and act accordingly.
How it works
A high-resolution, always-on camera and peripheral sensors are used to continuously map the owner/driver's face. While Honda hasn't specified it, this set of equipment will also be possibly used as facial and gesture recognition, to add a layer of security and operability to the car and its interface. This camera-sensor combination is the primary information feed for Hana, based on which it acts and suggests a particular course of action.
The image and sensor data is constantly fed into the system, where the AI and ML algorithms process it to look for recurring patterns of usage, and identify activities that are done on everyday basis. For instance, the onboard GPS data identifies places like your home and office, and automatically gauges routes between the two places. Additionally, the system also takes into account how you like to drive in various situations - when you're in a rush, when you're relaxed and even when you're preoccupied, as well as where you like to stop to pick up coffee. Based on all these parameters, Hana uses the onboard connected telematics platform to gather traffic and congestion data, and direct which route to take. For instance, if you're usually in a rush to reach office on Mondays, Hana will automatically feed in the fastest route to your destination and alter the route autonomously. On other days, it would automatically route you to office with a pit-stop at your favourite coffee shop.
Autonomous music optimisation as per mood
Furthermore, you can feed in data like your driving licence and credit card, so Hana can identify how experienced a driver you are, and pay for services autonomously, like picking up coffee to make your commute absolutely seamless. Hana's HMI (human-machine interface) has a sweeping interface that shows a plethora of data, including the present route being taken, playlists, car diagnostics and dynamics, and ancillary elements like your workday calendar, payment status, incoming messages and more. The HMI has a wide range of inputs, including eyeball tracking, voice commands in natural conversational format (powered by the onboard natural language processing computer), gestures and touch.
Based on your facial expression, Hana will gauge your mood to alter playlists, and suggest actions like responding to incoming email and messages, or whip up news updates on the screen for you to read. It simultaneously communicates with the car's autonomous driving system to take full control of the car, so you do not require to drive when stressed. Once you have reached your destination, Hana can gauge the amount of charge left in the car, calculate the amount of power left in the car's batteries and the amount that will be required to drive you back home, and autonomously calculate short routes through which it can use the car for ride-sharing services. It will also scan your calendar to check for any longer trips that you may have in the evening and alter plans accordingly.
Automating digital payments for your everyday needs
For instance, if you reach office with 80 percent charge left and have no additional trips in the evening, it can instruct the car to use up to 30 percent of its charge in making short ride-sharing trips around the city, thereby earning you money while you work in office. With 50 percent charge left after its ride-sharing duties are completed, Hana can further instruct the car to drive into a charging station, and during the peak power consumption hours of afternoon, can sell up to 20 percent of its stored electricity at a high rate to earn you some more money. With 30 percent charging remaining, Hana will then instruct the car to drive back to your office within your usual time of departure from office, and drive you back home, all the while scanning your mood to tune playlists and other details.
All of this, of course, is based on a future day where electricity is the prime source of power in fully developed smart cities, all transactions are connected and cashless, and all forms of mobility are equipped with advanced levels of autonomy. As of now, Hana is a concept to power autonomous cars in future. With mobility set to become smarter, digital assistants like Hana will become increasingly commonplace. Designed by Cocoro SB, a Japanese AI developer, Hana will aim to be the all-in-one assistant that can schedule your meetings, take care of your commute, switch on your home's air conditioner and fill up the bathtub by the time you reach home, and even earn you money with ride-sharing and power grid optimisations.
The Honda NeuV concept at Auto Expo 2018, New Delhi
Such advanced forms of technology, however, is years away from production at the very least. For this to function to its full potential, cities will need to become smarter, connected car safety standards will need to be significantly improved, electric car infrastructure will need to take over everywhere, and a full environment needs to be developed to support fully autonomous cars. On an optimistic note, however, Hana does remind strongly of Her, and that is a good note to begin with.