Honda and SoftBank partner to turn Asimo into KITT from Knight Rider

Car and tech companies continue to partner up, but Honda and SoftBank’s newly-announced union is a little different from most. Rather than working on self-driving cars, or a more connected vehicle, Honda and SoftBank are working on making an artificial intelligence that can actually talk to and assist drivers in a way designed to foster more feelings of friendship between human and car.

If the aim is really friendliness, rather than bad-ass stunts designed to help David Hasselhoff nail bad guys, then Herbie the Love Bug might be a better analogy to what the Honda/SoftBank partnership aims to accomplish. And the track record of robots created by both companies suggests a softer side for any future car companion.

Honda’s Asimo is actually celebrating its sweet sixteen this year in October, and the humanoid robot is one of the most recognizable in the world. The bot has even been a guest on quiz shows, and literally made great strides when it learned to run in 2005.

Softbank Pepper

But mobile network company SoftBank’s the one that has made more headlines with its robotics efforts recently: Its Pepper robot made its debut in 2014, and is intended to be used to “make people happy” according to the company, which sounds more like what this partnership aims to provide for drivers.

The stated goal is to “harmonize mobility with people,” according to the Associated Press. What that means in terms of how a car using the eventual tech would operate is anyone’s guess, but one of Pepper’s key traits is being able to recognize emotional swings  in the humans it deals with, and to temper its behavior appropriately as a result.

Full autonomy in cars may still be a long way off, but this Honda/SoftBank approach could act as an interesting interim step – not even partial autonomy, but a way to use AI to strengthen the connection between driver and vehicle, which could indeed help enhance the human driver’s skills. It worked for Hasselhoff and KITT, after all.