CarPlay Killer? New Auto Assistant Goes Beyond Apple's

Before autonomous vehicles ever hit the road, you may drive your own personalized car that understands your preferences, automatically knows where you want to go, and makes sure you never run out of gas or battery power.

Inrix, one of the leading suppliers of real-time traffic and parking data for Ford, Volvo and other automakers, has expanded the range of information available to drivers and integrated it to create smarter connected cars. The idea is to leverage machine learning based on a driver's habits, schedule and preferences, and then anticipate routes, navigation, stops for gas, and even where and when to go for a morning cup of joe.

"It's a personal mobility assistant that understands drivers," Inrix chief marketing officer Steve Banfield explained in an interview. "It synchronizes all the data you have in the system and thinks ahead. It knows your calendar, your schedule and your preferences, so it can anticipate you, reserve a parking spot, re-route you to get gas."

Inrix recently made a cloud-based service called Autotelligent available to automakers. It learns a driver's preferences, frequent destinations  and favorite routes, and matches them with calendar and contact information. The company also bought OpenCar, which is developing a complete in-dash interface for connected cars. The OpenCar software sits on top of the car's operating system and seamlessly integrates navigation, entertainment, and other services.

Unlike Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, OpenCar software can access typical car functions such as the air-conditioning and radio. OpenCar is also agnostic as to what kind of hardware or OS is used by a carmaker. It's trying to get smartphone app developers to create OpenCar versions of their apps, although OpenCar can support any program running under Android Auto and CarPlay.

"We also have intermodal routing," said Banfield, referring to the option of including public transportation and other travel options in navigation. "My car may tell me I shouldn't drive today because of congestion and [that] I should share a car or use my bike. The idea is to make my life better."

Inrix last year purchased ParkMe, adding information on millions of parking spaces at 90,000 locations worldwide. It's also working on developing safety alerts that go beyond real-time traffic reports to include warnings about hazardous conditions, such as black ice, based on data from cars ahead of you on the road.

"The Road Weather product can use fog-light data, windshield wipers, ABS brake and traction-control events from other cars to determine you're having a weather event," said Banfield. "We analyze it and can determine that there's black ice ahead."

The road-condition warnings and intelligent mobility assistant systems haven't been deployed in any commercial vehicles yet, but OpenCar has been working with Mazda for several years, and BMW has plans to include the Road Weather system in models later this year.

Such personalization and safety information may be convenient for drivers today, but it will be essential for the autonomous cars of tomorrow. 

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John R. Quain

John R. Quain has been reviewing and testing video and audio equipment for more than 20 years. For Tom's Guide, he has reviewed televisions, HDTV antennas, electric bikes, electric cars, as well as other outdoor equipment. He is currently a contributor to The New York Times and the CBS News television program.