Chris is a smart assistant that aims to tap into our smartphone addiction to make driving safer

How many times have you been travelling and you’re not the driver but had your heart skip a beat every now and then because your driver is spending more time glued to the little screen on his or her smartphone instead of on the road? What about yourself, how less distracted are you when behind the wheel? If the answer to both questions leans towards feeling endangered when using cabs or other transportation where you’re not the primary driver or being distracted when on the road then a German startup probably has the solution you need.

German Autolabs has come up with a smart assistant called Chris that is meant to be, essentially, the Amazon Alexa of the modern-day car. Alexa, the smart assistant developed by Amazon that is found on several devices, is a trailblazer in the industry and, as a result, has enjoyed a first-mover advantage for the last few years before the emergence of competitors like Google’s Assistant which threatens to cut its lead and occupy the top spot 2-3 years from now. This is according to projection data from research firm IHS Markit shown at the IFA Global Press Conference that is taking place in Italy which also shows that Apple’s Siri will continue being a digital assistant for the privileged few.

While smart assistants are still not as fully developed and capable as we would want them to be, thanks to advancements in Artificial Intelligence, that will not always be the case. Even then, there’s just about enough progress to get everyone started. The problem? The smart assistants currently in the market, like Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri or even Microsoft’s Cortana, lack specialized functions and mostly tend to be basic and not geared for use outside the home. For industrial and, maybe, enterprise use, we might need a whole new set of smart assistants that are more targeted. You know, more like how we have general practitioners (GPs) as well as specialized doctors for when the need arises. To use the words of IHS’s Director for Research and Analysis in Tech, Media and Telecoms, Paul Gray, “You won’t have your surgery done by Alexa.”

So, who will do it, then?

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Enter Chris, a smart assistant in the same breath as Alexa, Google Assistant and the rest but entirely focused on serving drivers. Think Google Assistant but just for when one is behind the wheel.

Meant to make day-to-day tasks while driving easier, Chris is supposed to pair with apps that one will need while driving like music streaming and navigation apps. For the former, Chris will be able to work well with Apple Music, Google Music, as well as any music files sitting on your phone. Since it pairs with Android devices via Bluetooth, the need for the endangered 3.5mm headphone jack is removed and, as such, it is nowhere to be found. On the navigation front, Chris will be able to work on German Autolabs’ own in-house-developed navigation app while integration with third party apps like Google’s Waze is built, which will make it far more useful.

That is not all, Chris is able to read out WhatsApp messages, E-mails, Facebook Messenger chats and, well, SMS, as well as respond to them via voice, completely freeing up the driver to concentrate on the road ahead. An argument can be made as to the effectiveness of talking to a smart assistant and listening to its replies while trying to take in all that is happening on the roads and being alert but that’s not the point. We’re not disciplined enough to keep them (the phones) in our pants and this is an attempt to save us from ourselves.

Chris as a digital assistant is just a piece of software. Physically, it resides in a device with a 2.1-inch screen that goes by the same name that can be mounted on a car windshield or dashboard using a sucker. It has a built-in battery that lasts for at least an hour for when it is not sapping juice from the car using its dual-USB charger.

Of course, it makes sense for Chris to wait till later in the year when the world’s biggest consumer electronics trade show, IFA, is held in its home city of Berlin for it to be officially made available for everyone. When it finally arrives in late August and early September, Chris, or “the world´s first digital assistant for drivers” as its makers would want you to refer to it, will cost a small fraction, €299, compared to another interesting gadget we saw yesterday that is a bit cumbersome if you brought it along to the car. If you pre-order it now, 4 months in advance, you will have €100 shaved off your checkout. Enticing.

Have something that you believe I need to have a look at? Hit me up: echenze [at] androidkenya.com