Originally published on Gas2.
Using live driving data and artificial intelligence, ZOE, an all-electric Renault, is writing a tribute to Jack Kerouac novel On the Road. The reason? Many people have range anxiety, right? So, according to Renault, people who follow this ZOE in prose form as it travels around 250 miles, or 400 km, on one charge will learn to lessen their range anxiety. The project has been authorized by the Kerouac estate, partially in celebration of the novel’s 60th anniversary here in 2017.
On the Road was based on the travels of Kerouac and his friends across the US. It is widely considered a defining statement of the Beat and counterculture movements. Published in 1957, the novel was reviewed soon after by the New York Times, which called it “the most beautifully executed, the clearest and the most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named.”
Kerouac brainstormed On the Road by taking notes in a series of journals. Later, in a whirlwind, he typed out the entire novel on a continuous reel of paper over the course of three weeks.
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” — Kerouac
Ah, now we see the Kerouac connection to the EV ZOE! ZOE draws on data points to compose an On the Road–type story based on existing temporal conditions from the internal and external sensors as the car drives through Stockholm. Each fanfiction story is different, depending on the driver and the inputs during each drive.
The EV will assemble data it collects from the sensors and the scanner, including speed, acceleration, braking, weather, nearby places, and geopositioning. In addition to the usual expected assortment of sensors, ZOE has a Raspberry Pi on board with a data-collecting scanner, 4G modem, and GPS. It assembles all that data and writes “contextual storylines,” according to the company’s press release.
How did ZOE learn to write? Well, the Watson API analyzed On the Road, searching for specific discourse use as well as emotional and social cues. Together, ZOE draws on these to form its particular narrative style of fanfiction.
“I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.” — Kerouac
Like the Amazon Alexa, ZOE’s AI uses text-to-speed technology to read aloud the results as the vehicle drives along on its single charge. The driver is able to access a thermal-printed representation of the story from the ZOE/On the Road headquarters.
I wonder if ZOE will be a character in the fanfiction as was Kerouac, whom he depicted through the narrator Sal Paradise…
“I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was – I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel.” — Kerouac
A film version of the original book was produced by Francis Ford Coppola and released in 2012, again titled On the Road. It is available streamed on Netflix.
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