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MBUX roll-out imminent, voice assistants to dominate

Speech therapy: Mercedes-Benz has said it plans to replace tactile buttons with voice commands in the future.

New infotainment and Hey Mercedes integration set for entire Benz line-up

6 Feb 2018


THE new Mercedes-Benz User Interface (MBUX) will be quickly rolled out across models such as the C-Class, it has been confirmed, while the voice activation showpiece of the system is expected to phase out button interaction by 2020.

Speaking with GoAuto at the global reveal of the new A-Class in Amsterdam this week, Daimler AG director of user interaction Georges Massing explained that the car-maker’s new infotainment system had been designed as a modular hardware upgrade for existing models, with the Hey Mercedes voice activation version of Apple’s Hey Siri tipped to become especially popular with owners.

“Talking about the technical perspective this technology is ready … and prepared to be rolled out into our cars,” he said.

“I think it’s not that complex. There are two main ingredients that came into the kitchen that helped us to build this system – first, you talk about processing power. Now that you have this huge amount of processing power you can do something on top of it.

“The second thing is what you call artificial intelligence, and how to program it. You have this huge amount of processing power and they have this huge amount of data so that they can use and through artificial intelligence bring that information together.

“Those are algorithms, and so if we put this system into a C-Class or E-Class or S-Class, they inherit whatever is there and then we build on top. We also now have the ability of over-the-air to update the systems, so that means we can still work out the back on some additional features and then bring them into the vehicle.”

Mercedes-Benz has claimed that the hardware underpinning MBUX – including graphics from renowned company NVIDIA – was now at a level to rival that of highly complex gaming consoles, empowering in particular voice activation to no longer rely on strict commands to perform certain tasks.

Mr Massing said that he believed in just two years – by 2020 – drivers of Mercedes-Benz vehicles will prefer to use the Hey Mercedes voice activation system over any number of dashboard buttons and on-screen menus, with the time lag owing to the admission that some finesse with the system is required.

“There are some other complex stuff where we are not there yet,” he confessed.

“The good thing is the more people are using this and start experiencing the car, the more we are getting some input from then on ‘why don’t you also do this and that?&rsquo.”

Driving functions have still not been engineered into the system, for example, so while a driver can communicate to the system that ‘I’m cold’ and the system will raise the temperature of the climate control, asking the vehicle to automatically reverse park in a spot is one such unavailable function.

Others such as switching off the electronic stability control (ESC) or performing a freeway lane-change as part of Mercedes’ lane-change assistance function have, however, been deliberately omitted from voice activation.

“Now that we call it the base line is there, there are no limitations on the cases that you can do, and some are easily implemented,” he said of automatic park assistance by voice activation.

“(But) the features related to driving functions, we were very cautious on what exactly we were turning off or playing with using speech.

“This is by purpose, because we think that this is something that the driver has to do. He has to do it manually because when you do it manually you really think of something that you are doing.

“(Lane-change assistance) is also one of the features which is driving related, so again you will not do it. If someone in the back seat was to give the command to change the lane … I don’t think the driver would like that.”

However the voice assistant Hey Mercedes will allow lane-departure warning to be switched off, as it is not an ‘active movement’ function of the vehicle.

“For (other) driving related functions you will be asked for confirmation, because you are the driver and someone in the back can also say, and what you don’t want is somebody else interacting with your car, specifically on driving functions,” Mr Massing added.

Asked what underpinned the confidence that drivers would prefer using a voice assistant to buttons by 2020, he replied: “There are two things. At the (Las Vegas) Consumer Electronics Show you see this proliferation in voice assistants.”“The second thing is, when you try this system … you just don’t stop talking to your car. It’s so amazing. What I’m telling my people is just keep your brain open. See how far you can go.”

As for where the man charged with further developing Hey Mercedes thinks the system could be taken inside the car within five to 10 years, he mused, “not only in the car, why just in the car?”

“Both in and outside of the car. So we just presented MBUX that is for us, a whole ecosystem and environment – using your Mercedes Me, for example, to give information to your car, or combining it with your voice assistants at home. The sky’s the limit here.

“And (in the future when) you are driving autonomously, you can do some other stuff. Dictate some messages, work on your email, watch some movies, and those are a lot of stuff you can do now that your car can do autonomously.

“Just try to let the humans speak how they want to speak, and see how far you can push the system. Take each and every single domain and try to make those domains as perfect as you can.”

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