It’s fun to try and keep up with the tech advances in cars.
Just when I think I’ve kept pace with the bots, safety tech, and other automations in cars, I find myself a bit surprised that I missed something novel and new.
I tested the 2024 Chevrolet Equinox recently, which (like most GM cars) has OnStar available — you can just click the OnStar button up near the rearview mirror to activate it.
I used to own a Chevy Impala back in the day and would use OnStar quite often. Back then, and even up until this past year, you would wait a few seconds to talk to a human assistant. You could ask about directions or places to eat, and the agent would help you out.
What’s changed? In the Equinox, you can now talk to a chatbot instead, which means it is faster and more efficient. I pressed the OnStar button several times over my test period and asked questions about waypoints and landmarks in my area. The voice sounds authentic and was helpful in giving me the info I needed. It’s also lightning fast — there is no delay, since prior to this launch you would wait a few moments while the human agent looked up some options.
Interestingly, there are a few other benefits. For one, the same “person” responds whenever you press the OnStar button. Thai means it’s a bit more predictable, as opposed to wondering which agent might help you. It’s always the same virtual agent.
Now, it’s important to know that the bot only helps with routine questions. If you are in an emergency, the bot can pass you over to a human agent, detecting certain phrases like “emergency” to make sure you have an actual human to help you. And, if the conversation turns more nuanced, it will also pass you over if you are asking about specific places in a city or asking more detailed questions.
In my tests, I asked about several different landmarks, including the airport, the library, and a local hamburger place. I never had any problems talking to the bot or finding the information I needed as I was driving around testing the car.
Google technology is also amazingly good and understands what you are saying, as opposed to the typical experience with bots from a few years back when we had to repeat the same question over and over again. That’s a good thing, because technology really has to work smoothly in a car. In all of my testing, I’ve found that, if the tech is not working correctly, it can become frustrating and distracting. Our brains are not really capable of multitasking, so if any of the tech requires too much focus, it is not ideal. (It’s best to pull over, actually.)
I’m sure this tech will only advance further, as chatbots become smarter and human agents are not needed as often. We’ll likely start holding entire conversations with them, or even asking bots to help the kids with their homework. For now, it helped me find a burger place quite easily.