Google Develops An Always-On Personal Assistant For The Car

You are not a secret agent, but you may feel like one when your cell phone starts functioning in much the same way as the computer in Knight Rider’s car.

Kitt on the dashboard of the car in the 1980s TV show Knight Rider.

It’s no accident that Google is calling its new hands free, eyes free search system ‘KITT.’ It’s engineers today are 80s children, and 80s children loved David Hasselhoff’s Knight Rider, the show where a secret agent went about fighting crime and keeping America safe in a nearly indestructible talking car.

If you’re not familiar, this clip of Kitt facing his evil twin should give you an idea about why a future engineer might have loved it so much:

All of the news around this new system is coming from unnamed sources inside Google, but ones that Android Police say have been reliable in the past. What Android watchers appear convinced of is that it will be an always on system, that will probably be activated with the phrase “Ok, Google.” (Right now, if you touch the search icon on an Android phone you can either start typing your query or, if you speak that phrase, it will try to search based on your voice). Another name the feature is going by internally is “Android Eyes Free.”

UI mockups from the Android Police

One of the big applications for this tech is driving. This is a way to still use your cell phone will driving without looking at it.

Some bits and pieces of the technology already exist in Android devices today, most notably in Moto X. Moto X responds to voice commands without any touching or pushing from the user before doing so. It’s always listening for a command from the user.

Existing Android devices can already take voice commands but you have to unlock the screen and then touch the mic on the search function to do it. You can also already get answers spoken back to you, but all of these take some level of tactile intervention by the user along the way. The goal of eyes free appears to be not to have to touch the phone at all.

Android Police has made a few guesses about the implications of the rumor that represent important shifts in how the phones operate. Overall, they represent a move to give search primacy over other functions of a smart phone:

  • Search will always be available via voice, no matter what you are doing. So, for example, if you were reading an email and it made you want to look for something, you wouldn’t have to close your mail app, find the search app, open it and then type in your search. You could just say, “Ok, Google, search for X” and it would hear it and start the seach.
  • KITT will read back its search results to you when it has a high level of confidence in the result and it fits into one of the categories Google has well formatted cards for. If the results are too complicated for that, it might read the text of the results, it might suggest you save the results for when you can look or it might suggest you “Keep” a link for when you can look at it.
  • Executing searches and tasks will be based on confidence. Apparently this is still developing, but when the application is very confident it has what you want, it will just read it out. If it’s less confident, they are working for protocols for checking back with the user via spoken results in order to clarify that the app is finding or doing the right thing.

That last point is important, because it also sounds like as KITT develops it will also make it possible to do things, such as writing texts, in a hands free way. This is another case where you can already basically do this with an Android phone and it works pretty well, but it takes a few taps to get to get to it. Once this functionality goes completely eyes free, it means people will still be texting while driving, they just won’t be looking at their smartphone while they do it.

[h/t] Android Police.

UI Image: Android Police, mockup

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