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Mercedes, BMW Hit The Open Road With Voice Technology At CES

Humans have long anticipated artificial intelligence (AI), but if one had asked the average fan whether they would ever have an AI of their own, all but the most extremely future-enthused would probably have waved the question off as silly. Talking cars that drive themselves and disembodied digital butlers are the stuff of sci-fi sitcoms and comic book movie franchises.

Or at least they were. Starting with Siri’s appearance on the market in 2011 and exploding into the public consciousness with Amazon’s Alexa (and to a lesser extent Google Assistant), with rapid growth over the last six or so years, the voice connected future has been expanding into every aspects of the consumer’s life — and into the co-pilot seat.

The latest PYMNTS How We Will Pay Connected Commerce Brief shows 70 percent of consumers who commute to work are very or extremely interested in new connected commerce experiences, and that the average consumer already own 5.7 connected devices on average. And these connected consumers are, when compared to the general population, particularly interested in interacting with voice assistants more than they are currently able to, with 39 percent reporting being very interested in being able to tap into voice platforms for day-to-day activities like paying bills. Only 16 percent of non-commuters, according to PYMNTS data, express a similar desire.

As the report highlights, the trend is also visible among surveyed bridge millennial consumers, more than half of whom travel to and from work each day. That subset of consumers also happens to be the most interested in engaging in new connected commerce experiences.

And as that generation is moving into its prime earning years — and thus its prime years for driving the U.S. economy — this has become an increasing item of interest for firms looking to keep pace with shifting consumer preferences.

Voice Technology Accelerates

From the virtual floor of CES 2021, innovations like ToneTag’s “Voice Commerce” product are rolling out to make shopping by speaking easier, more seamless and more viable for consumers. The technology is built to use sound waves to build what the firm calls and Audio QR as a medium for the merchant or seller and payment information to complete the transactions.

“We look forward to providing customers with a highly differentiated offline shopping experience that is easier and faster than regular shopping. Although, technology innovation in e-commerce has made the online shopping experience seamless and smooth as compared to the physical retail shopping experience whereas physical retail accounts for approximately 86 percent of all retail sales globally. It was a need of the hour to bring in a breakthrough technology in offline shopping too,” ToneTag CEO Kumar Abhishek said.

And while startups, as always, are pushing individual innovations in connections all across the virtual CES floor this year, more attention-grabbing perhaps are all the big-name players in the game rolling out their latest futuristic visions for connected commerce. Luxury and high-end automakers have been notably active in this endeavor.

Mercedes-Benz, for example, has put an OLED screen set into its car. The MBUX Hyperscreen to be placed in the cabin of its upcoming pure-electric EQS vehicle is a single-piece, curved glass screen that spans the full width of the interior, and makes up essentially three screens: one for the instruments ahead of the driver, another in the center for infotainment and a third for the passenger. It is, according to Mercedes, its latest front in the battle to build the most technically functional and beautiful connected car out there.

“We’ve always had the goal of putting innovative technology into our vehicles, and with the MBUX we’ve doubled down on digital. We’ve built a whole new world of connected cars and the accompanying software stack. When we made the decision on the Hyperscreen a few years ago, we said, ‘Let’s go for it. Let’s see what we can do with the curved OLED screen.’ It’s not just technology, it’s about aesthetics,” Daimler-Benz CEO Ola Kallenius told GQ.

And Mercedes isn’t alone. At CES 2021, BMW offered a preview of its iDrive infotainment system. Though still in development (with details emerging slowly), TechCruch reports, the new system will feature its own voice assistant and streamline some of its traditional buttons out to the screen itself.

“The next generation of BMW iDrive takes the burgeoning relationship between a BMW and its driver to a new level,” the company writes in its announcement. “The new system neatly bridges the gap between analogue and digital technology. And this, in turn, heralds another paradigm shift, as the number of available functions in a car and their complexity continue along a constant upward curve.”

A curve that consumers, by the numbers, are racing up and along, in ever growing numbers. Because as it turns out, the line between consumer products and science fiction innovation occasionally blurs right out of view.

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