For many of us, the daily commute is a bore. There’s the drone of the highway, the whiny rant of the local DJ and the all-too-familiar scenery day in and day out.
Within the next couple of years, though, that daily grind on the road could get a bit more interesting. The Road’s Scholar, currently in development at Detroit-based research and development company ejTalk, is promoted as a “conversation agent”?a safe and entertaining tool for long drives. Using VoiceXML and a cell phone, the Road’s Scholar lets solitary drivers interact with a robotic voice that asks trivia questions and shares tips such as how to classify wine and understand stocks. “It talks to you and gets your brain going,” says Emmett Coin, ejTalk CEO and industrial poet.
The most useful aspect of the Road’s Scholar could be its ability to determine when a driver is nodding off and needs a little mental stimulation. Sensors that notice changes in motion on mechanisms such as the gas pedal or the steering wheel would activate the system, and the driver would hear, “I didn’t mean to startle you, but you seem to be less attentive to the road just now. Would you like to chat for a bit?” The driver would respond with “yes” or even “sure” and can take a rousing quiz about low-key facts, such as state capitols. The information has to be entertaining but not too entertaining, Coin says. “We have to keep things interesting but have a nice balance to not be distracting,” he says. “It’s important to keep people safe.”