It all started with a paper clip on a computer desktop, and recently spread to the home. Now the virtual assistant is going into automobiles.
Probably because companies understand that most new buyers never take the time to learn their owner’s manuals, some are coming up with novel ideas on how to provide instant help on vehicle systems. For its part, Mercedes-Benz has introduced “Ask Mercedes” — a virtual assistant that uses artificial intelligence, and combines chatbot and augmented reality to answer questions typed in on a mobile device or by voice, in real time.
“We are creating a personalised customer experience that goes well beyond the vehicle,” says Britta Seeger, Mercedes-Benz Cars Sales member of the Daimler Board of Management of Daimler AG. “With innovative services such as ‘Ask Mercedes,’ we are further expanding our digital ecosystem.”
Among the features of the free app is the ability to photograph the instrument panel, for example, and have a display returned with computer-generated overlays of control infographics over the image supplied. To further return help to posed questions, the system can also integrate YouTube videos, so that owners aren’t just presented with instructions on a vehicle control, for example, but can also see how it works through video instruction.
Ask Mercedes can also be used away from the car, to learn more about the car, also with the ability ask questions or learn systems via typed in information or by voice, and can work over Amazon Echo, Facebook Messenger and Google Home
Through the chatbot, Ask Mercedes can understand natural language with questions posed in a variety of ways. For example, “How can I drive more economically?” will be understood as easily as “What is Dynamic Select?” And, it will also respond to general queries about people, places and things, including the weather forecast.
Developers went around the globe posing questions to customers and other interested parties, formulating responses in varying degrees of interest and knowledge-base to thousands of questions on vehicle operation.
The augmented reality part of the system works in the new E-Class and S-Class (and will be rolled out on new and replacement models as they are developed), by overlaying numbers over the Smartphone image of the steering wheel, instrument panel or centre console. Tapping the number returns a voice description of the control in question. A menu bar at the bottom of the screen makes one-handed operation easier.
The system is being launched (in English only) in South Africa and Malaysia, with North America getting a simplified system (without the augmented reality component). India and Hong Kong will get Ask Mercedes early in 2018, with a German version following later in the year.