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CES 2024: The automotive AI journey has just begun

Autovista24 | 26 Jan 2024

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A new path of technological automotive development is emerging, evidenced by a strong focus on artificial intelligence (AI) at CES 2024. Autovista24 special content editor, Phil Curry, considers where this road could take the industry.

Just two letters encapsulated the majority of discussions and launches at CES 2024 – AI. Every sector appeared invested in artificial intelligence, and the automotive market was no exception.

From personal assistants to predictive maintenance, AI could revolutionise mobility. However, understanding the technology is a complex task, as is the process of using it to gain results.

But almost all carmakers appear to be working on AI strategies. Some are planning simple integrations in the near future, while others are working on utilising the technology inside and outside the vehicle.

Huge potential

In a panel session presented by EY, the potential of AI in the automotive market was discussed, along with the needs of the industry to ensure it can work as effectively as possible.

Sabine Scheunert, former vice president of digital and IT sales/marketing at Mercedes-Benz, said: ‘Today, there is not a single carmaker that is not utilising AI. It starts with the clear potential of huge efficiency and helps to shorten the development cycle of new vehicles, which is a real efficiency driver. It is also useful in production lines, especially with quality management.

‘However, AI also has an important part to play in the customer journey. Call centres are integrating bots into their systems, and these can sufficiently answer the requests of the customers. So, in customer experience terms, the use of AI in the automotive industry has huge potential,’ she added.

Three AI areas

‘By 2030, we expect $74.5 billion (€68.5 billion) will have been invested in AI by automotive companies, the question now is, what do we do with that money, and how do we commercialise it?’ commented Constantin Gall, managing partner at EY.

‘We see three areas where AI can help benefit the mobility market: proactive care, proactive journey and proactive mobility.’

Proactive journey could see AI examine a driver’s commute and schedule to ensure efficient time management, also examining traffic trends. Proactive mobility complements autonomous driving, as AI brings augmented reality and in-car infotainment, benefitting users while the car is in motion.

Proactive care will see car owners offered a hassle-free experience when it comes to their vehicles. AI could take care of admin and logistics, such as insuring the vehicle, booking maintenance and even predicting potential issues. However, it may also offer proactive communication and recommendations, leaving the financial decisions up to the driver.

This means AI could help to maintain customer loyalty, especially when it comes to electric vehicles (EVs) which are subject to less maintenance. The technology could help ensure drivers interact with original manufacturers instead of considering a third party.

Benefitting aftersales

Scheunert highlighted how AI could have a crucial role to play in keeping customers loyal to brands through predictive maintenance.

As cars get older, they will end up moving out of the franchised dealer servicing schemes and into the independent repair sector. Scheunert suggested that aftersales is not an area that OEMs currently concentrate on.

‘It can cost around seven times more to reconquer a customer you have lost to bring them back to your aftersales service,’ Scheunert stated. ‘The aftersales area is certainly a market where AI can be developed further to benefit.

‘Vehicles today have a lot of sensoric information, monitoring everything that is happening around the car, including breakdowns or damaged parts. The next step is to connect the data to allow for a prediction on whether a part is close to the end of its life, but then also connecting to suppliers to ship this part to the nearest service centre, or even to the customer with instructions of how to fit the part themselves,’ she said.

Investment black hole

The AI options and potential benefits to businesses and consumers alike are vast. To utilise the technology fully, the correct data needs to be generated and analysed, with systems required to process all the information. Otherwise, carmakers and suppliers risk pouring millions into a black hole of development.

‘There is still a lack of real understanding of how the automotive industry can put AI to good use, in order to meet the user experience we would like to see,’ stated Damian Barnett, Luxoft CTO.

‘We need to make sure we are creating the right data, to allow us to collect the data we need and drive the results that we would like to see coming out of AI,’ he added.

Carmakers working on AI

Alongside the discussions, there were plenty of automotive businesses at CES 2024 revealing their AI plans.

BMW Group announced the integration of generative AI into its voice assistant. Together with its partner Amazon, the carmaker showcased a new system powered by the Alexa large-language model (LLM). The current development project is creating the foundations for a potential rollout.

Complex processing capabilities, which enable human-like interactions and conversations, have not yet been integrated into BMW vehicles. This is now made possible by LLMs, which are trained on enormous sets of data, allowing them to generate plausible language.

Mercedes-Benz is also integrating generative AI into its MBUX virtual assistant. The carmaker is aiming to make user interactions more human-like.

‘The Mercedes-Benz user experience of tomorrow will be hyper-personalised. With generative AI, our MBUX virtual assistant brings more trust and empathy to the relationship between car and driver,’ commented Magnus Östberg, chief software officer, Mercedes-Benz AG.

‘Thanks to our MB.OS chip-to-cloud architecture, our future vehicles will provide customers with exactly what they need when they need it.’

The carmaker explained that its MBUX virtual assistant uses generative AI and proactive intelligence to make life as easy, convenient and comfortable as possible. The system can offer helpful suggestions based on learned behaviour and situational context. Examples include playing the latest news in the morning or starting a preferred massage programme at the end of the working day.

The AI can also learn a driver’s movements and schedule, and link into digital calendars, to offer options should circumstances change. This may include automatically preparing a call should the user be running late for an appointment. The system can also learn individual driver preferences and prepare the vehicle accordingly, including music choices and ambient lighting.

ChatGPT comes to cars

One of the most well-known AI chatbots, ChatGPT, is to be utilised by Volkswagen (VW), with the system integrated into the carmaker’s IDA voice assistant by Cerence Chat Pro. This means the technology can offer new functionality and respond to drivers with detailed answers while understanding their basic needs and reacting to them.

‘Thanks to the seamless integration of ChatGPT and strong collaboration with our partner, Cerence, we are offering our drivers added value and direct access to the AI-based research tool,’ commented Kai Grünitz, member of the board of management at VW responsible for technical development.

The integration of AI helps to keep the cabin experience intuitive and personalised, while also giving the driver the information they need when required.

‘With the rise of generative AI and LLMs we are now entering a new era of computing, large language models will become the new AI agents, enabling a single conversational interface across applications, based on users’ personal preferences,’ said Stefan Ortmanns, CEO of Cerence.

‘This will help to transform the in-car assistant into a human-like companion. Our smart arbitration, embedded in the VW solution, directs questions, routes, and specific voice commands, and allows VW to feed the system with customised information,’ he said.

Using AI, VW says the IDA voice assistant can be used to control the infotainment, navigation, and air conditioning, or to answer general knowledge questions. In the future, AI will provide additional information in response to more complex questions as part of its continuously expanding capabilities.

Advancing the use of AI

Sony provided an update on its Sony Honda Mobility (SHM) business, including a new partnership with Microsoft. This collaboration aims to develop a conversational personal agent using the Azure OpenAI service.

‘Generative AI is a new canvas that is amplifying human creativity and creating opportunities for creators and designers to completely transform the in-vehicle experience,’ stated Jessica Hawk, corporate vice president, data, AI, digital applications and product marketing at Microsoft.

‘As these new technologies come forward, safe and responsible AI will continue to be a top priority for both Microsoft and Sony.’

SHM is also looking to build upon both automated driving and advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) by using AI in mobility. The company is adopting Vison Transformer, a deep-learning model for natural language processing, which also specialises in image recognition.

This will improve how ADAS can perceive the world, alongside greater path planning thanks to machine learning. Cars will be able to see the road ahead more clearly and consider hazards, before taking appropriate action such as applying brakes. This means AI will play a significant role in vehicle safety.

Overall, the automotive industry is still learning about AI and its potential. With most official announcements centring on integration with personal assistants, it is clear the market is only beginning to take note of the technology.

As the connected car continues to evolve, more AI integration can be expected. This stands to benefit the driver and give automotive brands the opportunity to retain customer loyalty, as well as monetise additional services.

This content is brought to you by Autovista24.

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