At CES 2017, plenty of car makers were showing off the latest tech. One of the most interesting developments is that popular digital assistants are making their way onto infotainment systems, with Nissan and BMW demonstrating Cortana.
When is Cortana coming to cars?
Cortana will be familiar to Windows users as it’s built into Windows 10 as well as Windows phones. Although there’s no firm date yet when you'll be able to buy a car with Cortana, both Nissan and BMW unveiled their plans at CES to bring the digital assistant to some models in their ranges.
Nissan’s demo showed the most advanced integration, with Cortana able to tailor preferences and settings based on who’s driving, which suggests user profiles will be involved.
As well as the Cortana features you’d expect to find – such as telling you your schedule, sending emails, adding to your to-do list, and setting reminders – she will also be integrated with the car’s features, offering in the demo to “engage auto park”.
The ability to manage your calendar and connect with the car’s satnav is also a bonus. In the demo, the driver asked, “What time is my meeting with Alan?”. She responded with, “Your meeting with Alan is at 9am. The venue has been updated. Would you like me to re-route you to the new location?”.
Cortana then reminds the driver that the car’s service is due, and offered to book an appointment for it, including information about free time in his calendar.
They hit traffic jam, and Cortana offers to re-route again, suggests enabling the car’s sport mode and offers to start a music playlist.
Essentially, it’s KITT from Knight Rider.
BMW’s demo showed Cortana acting as a conduit to the company’s own Connected system. This means you can ask for a weather forecast, the news or make a reservation at a restaurant.
However, it seems BMW hasn’t decided which digital assistant it will go for as it has also tested out IBM’s Watson.
Then again, nothing is set in stone for Nissan either, since along with Ford, both companies have also talked about Alexa integration.
Cortana in the car: Microsoft Connected Vehicle Platform
Cortana isn’t simply an app, of course. In this guise, it’s merely one component of Microsoft’s new Connected Vehicle Platform. This isn't an operating system (and isn't even a finished product) but a framework which includes various components such as Azure, Office 365, Bing and Skype.
It’s relatively obvious how the latter three fit in, and Azure is (for the uninitiated) Microsoft’s Cloud computing service which powers it all. It's not just powerful server hardware though, as there’s a new set of services including Azure ML (machine learning), Microsoft Cognitive Services and Cortana Intelligence Suite.
Cortana Intelligence Suite and Power BI (an analytics service) combine to make Cortana smarter, essentially. It will also add intelligence to the car, and probably enable some car makers to produce autonomous cars. Microsoft isn't building a connected car; it's hoping that more and more car makers will choose its new platform to power them.