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How BMW’s New Assistant Could Make Driving Safer 2021

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Key Takeaways

You'll be able to ask your BMW to change the radio station and many other things with its new personal assistant.It's part of a push by car manufacturers to pack as many features into vehicles, while not overwhelming drivers with information.The system will examine external factors like traffic and road conditions before interacting with the passengers. BMW

BMW's new AI-boosted personal assistant is likely to make driving safer by reducing distractions, experts say.

The assistant will be the driver's primary way of interacting with BMW's iDrive 8 infotainment system. The driver will be able to give the assistant a personalized name and use either verbal or non-verbal commands to bring up various in-vehicle functions and information streams. It's part of a push by car manufacturers to pack as many features into vehicles, while not overwhelming drivers with information. 

"The intent of these AI-enabled, voice-activated personal assistants is to reduce the need for drivers to interact visually and physically with their car's digital screens for commands," Michael Burk, a car infotainment expert at memory manufacturer Micron, said in an email interview. "They can reduce visual distraction and enable safer driving with eyes on the road and hands on the wheel."

AI That's Watching You

The assistant is designed to work with the very cool-looking new BMW Curved Display, which merges a 12.3-inch information display and a 14.9-inch control display into a single unit, and is angled toward the driver.

All told, the new assistant will offer natural language processing, gesture control, and cloud-based machine learning for the upcoming BMW iX and i4 models. It will examine external factors, like traffic and road conditions, before interacting with the passengers, and also will control functions such as climate control, ambient lighting, and audio playback

"Personalizing the assistant experience, as BMW has done, will make the user experience much more efficient in terms of usability and active reactiveness."

It's a lot for a personal assistant to manage in a car, but it can be safe "if done right," Mike Juran, CEO of Altia, a company specialising in graphical user interfaces, said in an email interview. But he warned that "it can absolutely be dangerous if done wrong."

To achieve the former, car manufacturers need to integrate visual, audible, and haptic feedback that confirms and solidifies the semantics and vocabulary that the car learns.  

BWM

"Seeing on your HUD a response that communicates what the vehicle understood when you gave it a verbal or gesture command is critical to the success of the interaction," said Juran.

"So, a big part of why the OEM should [also be] the purveyor and curator of that personal assistant is because [it's] the only party who truly understands and controls all the components of how the driver and passenger communicate with the vehicle to create this integrated, comprehensive relationship."

Chatting with Your Car at 55 MPH

Since BMW is making its own personal assistant, the company can optimize its cars, Juran said. 

"Personalizing the assistant experience, as BMW has done, will make the user experience much more efficient in terms of usability and active reactiveness," he added. "This makes the safety and reactiveness of the vehicle infinitely better when the driver's needs become life-critical." 

For example, when a driver says "defrost," the BMW will know they're currently in Wisconsin in February. "The assistant," said Juran, "will be able to react better and more intentionally when the car is able to process the subtleties and nuances of personal communication style and specific needs, like environmental needs in this case."

BMW's system is better at understanding spoken commands than most intelligent car assistants, but none are perfect, Brian Moody, executive editor at Autotrader, a used auto trading site, said in an email interview.

"The Lincoln system is especially notable as it incorporates a piece of hardware—a button perfectly located on the upper part of the steering wheel," he said. "The future of this tech will be the gradual blending of in-home, phone, and car AI—we can already see some of this starting with Hyundai's smart key where your phone controls much of the car's features, including unlocking and valet-like key sharing."