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IBM, OnStar, And General Motors Are Bringing Watson To Your Car

The possibilities range from “Huh, that’s interesting, I guess” to “genuinely useful.”

IBM, OnStar, And General Motors Are Bringing Watson To Your Car
[Source Photo: Flickr user Zaneology]

The future may be in self-driving cars, but the possibilities for our cars to smarten up while we wait for that technology to fully arrive are worth exploring, too–and that’s something that IBM, General Motors, and OnStar announced today with the advent of OnStar Go, which allows GM cars to channel IBM’s Watson for drivers who want to have some mild conveniences brought to their commute.

The initial launch includes partnerships with five brands–including big guys like ExxonMobil and Mastercard, a no-brainer entertainment platform in iHeartRadio, and intriguing prospects like location-sharing app Glympse and parking locator Parkopedia–intended to “deliver individualized in-vehicle experiences to a growing population of connected drivers.”

What that means for drivers depends on the partner–and the driver, as Watson uses machine learning to improve its processes–but in a release, IBM suggests some possibilities for each brand, which range from “huh, I guess that’s interesting” to “that sounds genuinely useful.” ExxonMobil, for example, will use Watson to help drivers find the closest Exxon and/or Mobil gas stations and get recommendations for what type of gas they should use for their car. That might be cool for ExxonMobil enthusiasts, if such a thing exists, but otherwise it mostly does something that your eyes can do by spotting the very tall signs that gas stations use to inform motorists of where they can fill up. iHeartRadio, meanwhile, promises to “curate personalized experiences that leverage on-air personalities and local content from radio stations across the U.S.,” in case you’ve ever sat in a new car and thought, “if only there were a way to listen to the music that I like.”

That sort of obvious deployment of technology is par for the course with a new idea, though, and the contributions of Glympse (which will allow drivers to share their location with businesses, which should make things like curbside pickup of orders genuinely convenient) and MasterCard (which will let people buy things as they’re driving) could combine into something interesting–combine the two, and you could theoretically pay for a pizza without taking your eyes off the road, then have it brought out to your car as you arrive. Meanwhile, Parkopedia is the sort of genuinely useful addition to a car that earns the word “smart,” as drivers will be able to find available parking spaces, reserve them, and pay for them from behind the wheel. Anything that spares us twenty minutes of circling the block is okay in our book, so while some of the applications here may be underwhelming, the potential of the partnership means Watson is a welcome passenger in our rides.

About the author

Dan Solomon lives in Austin with his wife and his dog. He's written about music for MTV and Spin, sports for Sports Illustrated, and pop culture for Vulture and the AV Club.