ChatGPT in the cockpit: How AI is turning cars into chatterboxes

PARIS: "Hey, what's the weather like along the route?" When BMW developer Justin Forsyth gets into the prototype of the new Mini Countryman, he no longer has to press any buttons or tap into screen menus.

That's because the next generation of the popular small car will also see a new digital assistant go into series production.

"It has its very own character, British accent and a touch of English humour", said Forsyth, who works as a programmer at the manufacturer's tech office in Silicon Valley.

Forsyth quipped that he was once reprimanded by the car for being a late riser by the chatbot when he once greeted it with a hearty "good morning" although it was already lunchtime.

Once inside the technician can enquire whether the tyre pressures are correct, say how warm he would like the interior to be and ask for his favourite music to be played.

The chat assistant is based on Amazon's Alexa software, but has an automotive twist and speaks in its own distinctive accent, said Forsyth.

Flowchart zur ChatGTP-Integration von Volkswagen (3/3)

This marks the beginning of a new chapter in communication between humans and machines. However, car manufacturers want to go even further.

The popularity of AI chatbots such as ChatGPT has prompted experiments with so-called large language models in Silicon Valley and similar development centres around the world.

In theory, these virtual assistant can learn to read you the latest news stories every morning, set the ambient lighting and music just as you like it, and even offer to dial into a meeting if you're in the car and running late.

The aim is to make dialogues more fluid and natural, with topics extending beyond just car itself. Chatbots can give weather details or travel tips that go far beyond simply naming points of interest along the way.

"ChatGPT in the car will take the user experience holistically to a new level," believes Timo Littke from strategy consultant Berylls.

This starts with dramatically-improved speech recognition and voice output, which is becoming much easier to understand.

The range of topics and information will also increase, as the systems garner more knowledge from the internet and data from connected user accounts. The email inboxes or calendars of occupants will also be available, said Littke.

Brands can also personalise their offerings using AI chatbots. This also means person-car dialogue could pick up on previous topics of human-car conversation.

There is a potential safety boost too, said Littke: "Easier and more intuitive use will reduce distraction and drivers will be able to concentrate better on traffic."

Although the car manufacturers are adopting the sophisticated expertise of large internet companies, they want to implement it in such a way that drivers do not have to cope with major changes.

And above all, they emphasise the importance of drawing boundaries to what is or should be possible. This is especially important in some markets such as Germany, where consumers are very wary of disclosing personal information.

"We retain sovereignty over the data and take responsibility for its protection," said BMW man Forsyth.

This means working with shielded cloud environments which protect the systems from from remote attacks by hackers, including privilege abuse by those illegally gaining access.

Until recently most of the chatbots have behind tested behind closed doors, but manufacturers are now increasingly venturing out onto the road with AI chatbots. Mercedes started a trial run last year and integrated ChatGPT into its MBUX infotainment system.

2024-04-24 16_26_54-dpa news _ Photos ( Release 2.17.7 )

The beta programme extends existing "Hey Mercedes" functions such as navigation input or weather queries using ChatGPT. "In this way, we want to make conversations with natural dialogues capabilities and follow-up questions possible," said Mercedes Head of Development Markus Schäfer.

While Mercedes has limited the gadget to its US clients, Citroen offshoot DS has been offering a comparable system in Germany since last autumn. An initial 20,000 customers in half a dozen European countries can register free of charge.

Among other things, it has personalised bedtime stories for the kids, infos on the most important traffic rules for the countries along the route and snack ideas for the next rest stop. Drivers can also opt to hear quiz questions or discuss with the car their national soccer team's chances at Euro 2024.

The ability to interact is one of the outstanding achievements with which artificial intelligence has impressed in recent years, said DS parent company Stellantis. This is why the French company leaves little doubt that the trial run will soon go into regular operation.

Other manufacturers can hardly escape the fascination of AI chatbots: Volkswagen announced at the last CES tech fair that that it will integrate the chatbot ChatGPT into its vehicles. The software, which can form sentences at the linguistic level of a human, are being integrated into the in-house voice assistant IDA.

And it won't stop there, said Berylls expert Timo Littke: "The high added user value will lead to high demand and drive many manufacturers to develop their own ChatGPT integrations."

This will mean more natural speech and better recognition, more detailed dialogues and an ever-wider range of topics - of course, drivers and their passengers are the first to benefit from the new chat applications, said the expert.

However, when such AI language bots are used as a development tool, it also works in the opposite direction - for example at the British start-up Wayve.

The company uses AI to let humans show the car what they are doing and why. This could then train future autopilot software and bring us closer to autonomous driving.

In other words, taking machine learning literally: the human steers, the machine learns.