Not long from now, you might talk to your car, just like Michael Knight.

ONE of the main characters in the 1980s TV series Knight Rider was KITT, an artificial intelligence (AI) unit which resided in the black Pontiac Trans Am driven by black-leather-jacket-clad crime-fighter Michael Knight.

Well, truth often mimics fiction and in this case, it might not be long from now that we all will have an AI buddy to assist us with our driving (although maybe not crime-fighting) just like KITT did for Michael.

Voice assistants such as Alexa, Siri, Google, Cortana and Bixby have come a long way since the first rigid systems were first introduced. They have now taken charge of smart households, control lighting and even the vacuum cleaner.

Bosch is on a mission to put the voice assistant behind the wheel. The primary reasons: safety and convenience.

The company says the newly-developed technology frees drivers from distractions so that they can concentrate on their essential task.

“When drivers get into a modern car, they can sometimes feel like an airplane pilot — buttons, screens, a confusing menu navigation with a thousand sub-menus. Bosch is putting an end to the button chaos in the cockpit. Instead, we turn the voice assistant into a passenger,” says Dr Dirk Hoheisel, member of the board of management of Robert Bosch GmbH.

The AI assistant makes driving safer as well as more comfortable. A study from the Allianz Center for Technology found German drivers were frequently distracted by operating the navigation system, adjusting the air-conditioning, or answering a phone call. Not surprisingly, this kind of distraction is one of the main reasons for road accidents.

The new AI system does away with the limited and rigid voice commands of the past, and uses natural language instead of a menu hierarchy of options which had to be memorised by the driver.

“Say what you want the way you want to say it — Bosch puts a voice assistant in the car who understands the driver just like another person would,” says Hoheisel.

The system can also understand accents and dialects, and it does so in more than 30 countries of the world, understanding British, American, New Zealand or Australian English dialects.

The system has so far taken more than a decade of work.

The AI can think ahead as well and even learn. An example given by Bosch is for instance if the driver wants to call “Paul”, the system scans the contacts list and takes into account the driver’s present location, time and situation before responding.

“ When on the way to the office in the morning, ‘Paul’ probably means the colleague at work while the same name in the evening might refer to the best friend. To make sure, Casey asks a question: ‘I have found five contacts called Paul. Do you want to call Paul Stevenson?’.”

Bosch says the dependency on context is the first stage of artificial intelligence.

The Bosch assistant does not need an external data connection. The system in the car takes over the processing without sending any data to the cloud. This makes it possible for it to work in tunnels or without mobile network coverage.

Perhaps the best part about the Bosch AI assistant is that it responds to any name you give it.

The driver can name the assistant with the name of his or her choice. The driver can activate the assistant by calling out the name given to the assistant, and starts every new dialogue simply by speaking directly to the assistant. No more waiting for beeps.

Of course, this means you can also call your car KITT, just like Michael Knight.

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