June 20, 2023 — Remember Knight Rider? Nearly 41 years ago, the talking and intelligent 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am (AKA known as KITT) first appeared on NBC, tickling our imaginations about what it would be like to have a conversation with our cars.
Nothing more than fantasy land. Talking to a car has been a non-starter, except for giving our vehicles predefined specific voice commands for weather and traffic updates, radio, navigation, and climate control.
Well, it was until earlier this month.
Mercedes Benz announced several days ago it is beta testing an integration of OpenAI ChatGPT’s large language model with the automaker’s MBUX infotainment’s Hey Mercedes Voice Assistant via Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI platform. The test went live on June 16.
Approximately 900,000 Mercedes vehicles in the US are equipped with MBUX and are eligible to participate in the test. Owners can opt-in by simply saying, “Hey, Mercedes. I want to join the beta program.” The necessary updates will happen over the air.
Leveraging ChatGPT will expand the “Hey Mercedes” capabilities from predefined commands to having natural conversations with the vehicle. As of now, the beta test is expected to last three months.
No doubt, for now, this is nothing more than a highly-advanced and cool parlor trick. Even the press release announcing the integration underplayed it by talking about how drivers can now ask for dinner recipes while driving or getting information about their destination.
But, if you’ve experimented with ChatGPT or Google’s Bard, you know the natural language ability has incredible potential.
And Mercede’s play is just the first step of what will be a torrid pace in the industry of in-vehicle conversational AI capabilities unveiled over the next few years.
In early 2020, I began a presentation at the American Financial Services Assn. Vehicle Finance conference highlighting a scenario of how vehicles in the future will vocally let the owner know when service or maintenance is needed.
Look for automakers to tie the voice assistant to the vehicle’s systems while connecting to a data cloud that integrates their suppliers, factories, shipping firms, and retail networks.
Instead of getting an email, a text message, or a printed direct mail piece, the vehicle verbally informs the owner when service or maintenance is needed while providing the owner with available service slots at preferred dealerships.
The in-vehicle platform has already talked to the dealership’s service department to see which slots are open and checks to ensure the part is available (if not, it arranges for the shipment of the required part). The vehicle knows the owner’s schedule, preferred dealership, and possibly the preferred loaner vehicle.
For automakers and dealers truly on top of their game, this scenario creates numerous opportunities to wow the customer. But it will require collaboration and data sharing between both dealers and manufacturers at a level unseen in the auto industry.