Speak like Spock… to your car

New Toyota-Lexus interface wakes up on command, listens to real-life instructions


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There are interesting parallels between the evolution of the human machine interface on Star Trek and in real-life vehicles today.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/12/2021 (476 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There are interesting parallels between the evolution of the human machine interface on Star Trek and in real-life vehicles today.

In the 1960s original series, Capt. James T. Kirk would press a button and speak to the computer. In the 2000s, drivers would press a button and speak to the computer.

In the late-1980s and 1990s, captains Jean-Luc Picard, Kathryn Janeway and Benjamin Sisko would utter a wake-up command, “Computer,” and when the computer was listening, would speak their commands.

In the 2022 Toyota Tundra and Lexus NX — and soon others — drivers will utter a wake-up command, “Hey Toyota” or “Hey Lexus,” and speak their commands.

Life imitating art. Or perhaps catching up.

More intuitive voice-recognition and more plain-language commands are part of the enhancements rolling out in Toyota and Lexus connected services, starting with those two vehicles, and being integrated going forward in every refresh of both brands’ vehicles.

For example, you could say “Hey Toyota,” and when you hear a beep, say “turn on the wipers.” Or “Find me a Japanese restaurant.” Or “I’m cold.”

Along with the new commands come some massive touchscreen displays, 14 inches, in some trim levels of both vehicles. The large screen size allows the touchscreen to be less fidgety, allowing drivers to activate functions with a bit less concentration on hitting exactly the right button.

Certain highly distracting features are disabled above a certain speed, helping discourage drivers from being too engaged in the screen.

Expect to see the features appear on refreshed versions of the entire lineup, and Steve Andrew, manager of Toyota Connnected, said the bulk of the offerings will be on every trim level.

“There might be some features that are dependent on the hardware, such as the smartkey,” he said. “But we’re not trying to diminish the experience based on the price point buyers can afford.”

That smartkey lets a driver’s smartphone be the key for unlocking and starting the vehicle. As well, using the app, it can be shared digitally with other drivers. The system recognizes whose key has been used and presets the vehicle to that user’s settings, such as choices of radio stations, seat and steering wheel positions (when memory functions are present) and so on.

The new system uses Google metadata so the navigation provides more than just the location: you can see hours of operation, reviews, etc. Both systems also integrate with both Android Auto and Apple Carplay.

The new connected services applications are on top of existing apps, which offer service info, help with scheduling appointments and offer emergency notification after a collision or connection to roadside assistance by pushing a button.

The app, which drivers install on their smartphones, also allows drivers to continue to receive navigation instructions after they leave their vehicles, should they park some distance from the destination. It also allows for remote starting, remote unlocking and for maintenance updates.

Toyota Canada vice-president Stephen Beatty said the company takes the threat of hacking seriously. “Behind the scenes, there are a lot of controls in place to ensure your data is locked and travels only with you,” he said.

“There are constant IT upgrades making sure there are the hardest-to-break codes in place. We have had no issues with hacking so far.”


Kelly Taylor

Kelly Taylor
Copy Editor, Autos Reporter

Kelly Taylor is a Winnipeg Free Press copy editor and award-winning automotive journalist. He's been a member of the Automobile Journalists' Association of Canada since 2001.

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