In yet another example of the convergence of technology in the automotive world, Mercedes Benz unveiled plans on Monday to use Siri, Apple’s virtual personal assistant exclusive to the iPhone 4S, to power its A-class electronics system called “Drive Kit Plus,” which will essentially let drivers access their iPhone apps while driving using voice commands.
“Drive Kit Plus” works alongside Digital Drivestyle, which is Mercedes-Benz’s app that can translate the iPhone screen onto the in-car system screen. With Siri, drivers will have a hands-free solution to listen to music, change channels on the radio, send texts, or make calls. “Drive Kit Plus” also comes preinstalled with a number of social networks, so drivers will even be able to update their Twitter accounts, post messages to Facebook, and change stations on Aupeo Personal Radio.
One of the best features of “Drive Kit Plus” will be hands-free navigation. Mercedes-Benz plans to integrate Siri into the Garmin GPS system, so drivers can get directions and find routes without stopping their car to input the destination. Instead, navigating the roads will all be accomplished with simple voice commands.
Mercedes-Benz is the first carmaker to integrate Apple’s technology directly into the vehicle’s in-car system. It also marks the first time that Apple has allowed Siri to command other electronics systems outside the iPhone 4S.
The Siri-powered feature will debut at the 82nd International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland, from March 8-18.
Mercedes-Benz ultimately picked Siri to power “Drive Kit Plus” because, simply put, no other voice-activated assistant is anywhere as powerful as Siri. The technology, which helps users call, text, e-mail, schedule meetings, surf the Web and find answers to complicated context-sensitive questions, was born out of a $150 million project from DARPA and SRI Ventures, the largest artificial intelligence project in U.S. history to date. The unique feature has driven sales of the iPhone 4S to make the new smartphone one of the most successful product launches in the company’s history.
Thankfully, Apple is looking for other areas to implement its incredibly powerful voice platform, besides its own products. Using Siri in a car makes the most sense, since drivers are now penalized if they are caught texting or calling while driving. With Siri, drivers don’t have to adjust their natural language in order to get directions, send texts and call friends — three activities that often get drivers in trouble with the law.
There are still a number of ways Siri could improve to benefits the user. The first key would be to expand Siri’s dictionary, as she can often struggle at times with acronyms, common foreign language words used in English, and when there’s excessive background noise. Siri also mistakes obvious commands; for example, if you tell Siri to call you an ambulance, Siri will reply, “OK. From now on, I will call you ‘An Ambulance.’ Is this correct?” In the time it takes you to cancel and start over, you may have died. This is one crucial detail that is preventing Siri from replacing OnStar.
Siri may not show up in most cars — after all, Apple wants to all of its features and tools tightly integrated with one another, not licensed out to others. Nevertheless, Apple’s partnership with this particular luxury carmaker is smart, and one that the late Steve Jobs, who owned and admired his own silver Mercedes, would have surely enjoyed.