The crime-fighting Pontiac Firebird Trans Am immortalized in the 1980s action series Knight Rider featured an artificial intelligence that sounded every bit as human as its partner behind the wheel.
Decades later some cars can in certain conditions already drive themselves, just like KITT, but A.I. hasn’t yet been able to give us a convincing dashboard assistant that can carry a conversation naturally.
Mercedes-Benz, the world’s second best-selling premium car brand behind BMW, wants to finally change the industry’s often stilted and artificial-sounding voice command experience.
By using Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI Service to harness the power of ChatGPT, it hopes to make everything more intuitive and comfortable.
An advanced AI chatbot able to mimic a friendly human offers the chance at a more emotional bond to the vehicle like Knight Rider‘s fictional protagonist Michael Knight had with his car. The greater that connection, the more loyal the customer.
“Users will experience a voice assistant that not only accepts natural voice commands but can also conduct conversations,” it said on Thursday.
U.S. owners that have one of the more than 900,000 vehicles equipped with the brand’s MBUX infotainment system can opt into the three-month-long field test starting this Friday.
All they need to do is tell their car: “Hey Mercedes, I want to join the beta program”, and then the rollout commences over the air.
Based on the findings and customer feedback, Mercedes will then consider further integration of this technology into future iterations of its MBUX Voice Assistant while maintaining high standards of customer privacy.
Markus Schäfer, development chief for Mercedes, called it a “milestone on our way to making our cars the center of our customers’ digital lives.”
Mercedes fending off Tesla’s challenge
Mercedes is currently locked in a fight to defend its business from Elon Musk’s Tesla, which overtook Audi in the first quarter to become effectively the world’s third largest manufacturer of premium price vehicles (Tesla is already the most valuable auto company).
One of the reasons brands like Mercedes can still earn double-digit margins is their technological leadership over the competition.
Being the first to integrate ChatGPT into its vehicles could help give it an edge over rivals. It already scored a coup this month by beating Tesla to the approval of its automated driving feature in the tech-savvy state of California.
Amid this shift towards automated driving, cars once bought for the horsepower under their hood are morphing into a kind of “second living room”. Going forward, entertainment and relaxation will play an ever-growing role.
In early 2017, Toyota showcased its Concept-i study designed to give a sense of what was to come but despite advances, the industry is still far from the futuristic vision portrayed in its promotional video.
That might finally begin to change now with the Mercedes pilot.
In a twist of irony, the German brand could end up integrating the OpenAI chatbot that Musk’s $50 million helped birth when he co-founded the developer in December 2015 as an answer to Google’s dominance in the field.