Three little words to send a Lamborghini on its way

A Lamborghini’s Huracán EVO Spyder. All new Huracáns will have a navigation system using Alexa and What3words. (Photos: NYTimes)
In most modern cars and SUVs, dashboard navigation systems help motorists plot a road trip, give them a route to client meetings, or lead them to their children’s away soccer games. But where is a Lamborghini Huracán driver headed?اضافة اعلان

Wherever that may be, a new navigation system starting in 2022 models will help get the car there — and hopefully with greater certainty. A console-mounted app called What3words is coming to these Lamborghinis, and it will be the first of its kind to incorporate Amazon’s voice-activated Alexa feature.

Previously available in other cars, but without Alexa, the What3words system divides the world into 57 trillion 10-foot (3-by-3-meter) squares and assigns each a unique three-word address code randomly chosen from a customized standard dictionary.

“The Huracán app is significant,” said Chris Sheldrick, CEO of What3words, which is based in London. “So many drivers struggle with inputting the address and wind up at the wrong location.”

Aimed at enhancing both the speed and accuracy of car navigation systems, What3words is said to overcome common issues such as duplicate street names. To cite a few: There are 367 Park Streets in California; Australia has 521 George Streets; and in Greater London, there are 14 Church Roads.

“Traditional addresses often are not suitable for voice input,” Sheldrick added, “and a lot of the time, the best spots don’t have any addresses at all.”

For example, a Huracán driver wishing to view San Francisco Bay from the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge would first call up an image of the bridge on the What3words screen, then identify the coded, 10-foot square corresponding to that location. After voicing the code aloud — in this case “scar-milk-focus” — the driver would follow Alexa’s guidance to that exact spot.

Lamborghini’s voice-activated navigation system using Alexa and What3words, an app that has broken down the globe into 10-foot squares and assigned each block a three-word address. (Photo: NYTimes) 

The navigation system is part of Lamborghini’s push to meet customer expectations beyond horsepower. This year reportedly will be the company’s last to offer internal combustion engines only; in 2023 it is expected to debut hybrid models, with all-electrics coming later in the decade. (All of this technology and prowess may be paying off for Lamborghini, which in 2021 posted its best year ever, delivering 8,405 cars.)

“We start with the car and its driver,” said Luca Giardino, head of connectivity for Lamborghini. “The Huracán links computer software and hardware in ways that enhance that relationship. What3words allows greater focus on the pure driving experience — without the distraction of being uncertain whether or not you will arrive at the correct destination.”

Sheldrick, a former music promoter and organizer, developed What3words in response to frequent address difficulties faced by his touring musicians. For example, he recalled an incident in Italy when a driver unloaded a truckload of instruments an hour north, rather than an hour south, of Rome. On another occasion, a frantic keyboard player called him from somewhere in London and said, “Don’t panic, Chris, but we may have just sound-checked the wrong wedding.”

Sheldrick contacted a school friend who is a mathematician in hopes of developing a system that would be as precise as GPS latitude and longitude coordinates but easier and faster to use. Shortly after their talk, the friend created the application’s first three-word address algorithm on the back of an envelope.

“Lamborghini is a trailblazer in being the first to implement this system,” said John Scumniotales, Alexa Automotive’s head of product. “They certainly won’t be the last. We’re excited to see how this partnership progresses.”

Huracán drivers do not pay to use the system; What3words charges a flat fee to Lamborghini and other companies that buy the app.

“People around the world are using What3words addresses to find, share and describe places faster and more easily,” Sheldrick said, “from festivalgoers to delivery drivers, event organizers and postal services.”

Voiceless versions of the What3words technology have been adopted in selected models by other carmakers, including Mercedes-Benz, Lotus, Tata Motors, and Ford. The app is free to download on Apple iPhones and iPads and on Android platforms, which can then integrate with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

“This could be really convenient when I’m trying to figure out which parking lot to use when I go to my son’s football games,” said Chris Gerdes, a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford and co-director of the university’s Center for Automotive Research.

Lamborghini’s Huracán EVO Spyder. The $200,000 V-10 Huracán can sprint from zero to 60 miles an hour in 2.5 seconds. (Photo: NYTimes) 

While advanced navigation tools like What3words hold promise, Gerdes said he remained skeptical that they would propel automakers on a speedy path to fully autonomous cars. Creating and orchestrating the intricate mosaic of automated cameras and sensors, machine-learning tools and algorithms needed to achieve reliable self-driving cars are far greater technical challenges, he said.

“A successful autonomous system requires that the self-driving vehicle be constantly aware of other objects and conveyances” — and how they are moving, Gerdes said.

While widespread self-driving ability may still be in the future, complex computer applications and electronics are finding increasing use in high-end “driver’s cars.”

The $200,000 V-10 Huracán, for example, with 602 horsepower and a 0-to-60 acceleration time of 2.5 seconds, fairly bristles with computer-assisted performance. Its “predictive system” adjusts for driver inputs in a way that can even correct for gear-shifting errors.

Indeed, in conversation with company executives, the CEO, Stephan Winkelmann, has indicated that Lamborghini is open to autonomous operation as a future option in “dense urban traffic situations where driving isn’t fun.”

And Gerdes said Lamborghini representatives had recently visited Stanford to view a demonstration of the center’s autonomous race cars.

The growing embrace of technology is notable. Former Ferrari chief Sergio Marchionne once famously described the idea of an electric vehicle’s wearing the prancing horse badge as an “almost obscene concept.” But in 2013 came the 963-horsepower La Ferrari, the company’s first car to use a hybrid drive system featuring a V-12 internal combustion engine and two electric motors.

Last year, Ferrari added a third electric motor to its SF90 Stradale for a boost to 983 horsepower. The Purosangue, the automaker’s much-anticipated, first-ever SUV, is widely expected to offer a plug-in hybrid when introduced this year.

“If you look at where modern cars are going, I definitely think autonomous operation will become part of the future enthusiast car experience,” Gerdes said. “It will be very possible to build cars that enthusiasts love to drive when they want to and then can switch to autonomous operation when they don’t.”

The Patrick Ottis Company in Berkeley, California, is widely ranked among the world’s premier restorers of vintage Ferrari automobiles and motors. Ottis said that in May he will “mark a half-century of repairing Ferrari internal combustion engines.”

His shop is keeping pace with Ferrari’s updates. “We’ve just taken on a talented Ferrari mechanic with 40 years’ experience,” Ottis said. “He’s totally conversant with all the new models, including La Ferrari.

“Since he’s been here, I’ve driven a couple of the newer Ferraris, and when I get in a three- or four-year-old Ferrari, it’s so great I can’t even appreciate it. That’s when I realize how amazing the future is. And that it’s just going to continue.”

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