Tesla is teaching its cars to talk to pedestrians in a British accent

Tesla announced it will soon teach its cars to talk to other road users and pedestrians. Company co-founder and CEO Elon Musk published a short video of a talking Model 3 on his personal Twitter account, and noted: “This is real.”

“Well, don’t just stand there staring, hop in,” the electric sedan states in a male voice with a suave British accent as it takes a turn at a crawl. It then speaks another sentence the video doesn’t pick up. Musk, who changed his name to Buff Mage on Twitter in an apparent World of Warcraft reference, replied to his original tweet by using an emoji to point out Tesla’s cars will also gain the ability to fart. This isn’t the first time the executive has pledged to reward owners with a flatulence function, surprisingly, so odds are he’s serious about it.

As is often the case, the video asks more questions than it answers. We don’t know when Tesla will teach its cars to speak, for example, what the function will be called, and whether it will be free, or bundled into the Premium Connectivity package it charges owners a monthly fee for. While it sounds frivolous at best, there are several situations in which this unique spin on the concept of vehicle-to-infrastructure communication will come in handy.

It’s not too far-fetched to imagine Uber or Lyft drivers could use the function to announce their arrival, especially in crowded areas. Hearing “hello, Cecilia, I’ve arrived” would be quicker and more straight-forward than trying to find a silver Toyota Corolla in a sea of silver Toyota Corollas, or wandering around to check each car’s plate.

Looking ahead, Tesla has pledged to deliver fully autonomous cars as soon as possible, and giving a Model 3 the power of speech solves many communication issues. Other automakers have experimented with different lighting patterns that let a car inform a pedestrian or a biker of its intentions. Speech is more straightforward; an autonomous car could say “go ahead and cross, I’m stopping” or “I’m turning left here.”

When it arrives, whether it’s in a year or 10, full autonomy will open the door to ride-hailing services that tirelessly operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and Tesla is already planning to monetize these services. In late 2019, it announced plans to deploy a massive fleet of self-driving robo-taxis, though the timeline for its rollout remains vague, and I’m betting every car in it (whether it’s company- or privately owned) will have the ability to talk.

Tesla will release more information about its Knight Rider-like talking cars in the coming months. There’s no indication the feature requires hardware changes, so owners should get it via an over-the-air software update.

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