Daimler’s Khan says not all HMI technology will go into Mercedes cars (Photo: Uli Regenscheit)

Artificial intelligence will play a key role in the operation of future car generations, says Sajjad Khan, vice president digital vehicle & mobility at Daimler. In an interview, Khan explains the degree of innovation that is redefining HMI systems. He also predicts that the number of apps in the car will soon decline.

Mr. Khan, which technologies will define tomorrow’s digital vehicle?

From a technology point of view, there are several elements of interaction that will be needed; these include gestures, vision, speech and touch. This multitude is anchored in human nature and it is in line with the five human senses. With the MBUX interface in the new Mercedes cars we have made a quantum leap in natural voice control. The cloud plays an important role here, both as a push and a pull mechanism. Ideally, the driver doesn’t even notice which processes take place in the cloud and which happen within the on-board systems.

Buttons on the steering wheel, touch screens, natural speech input – the industry is counting on redundancy when it comes to operating a vehicle. Will the future see ever more HMI systems in Mercedes vehicles?

I wouldn’t quite put it that way. The decision will always depend on the vehicle and on the wishes of our customers. Essentially, we apply the highest standards and only bring our new technologies into the vehicle when they are mature, function reliability and can be operated in an optimal way. We are courageous enough to forego a new feature when we see it doesn’t yet meet our high requirements to improve the user experience. Touch control, for example, assures a minmum degree of distraction. But the question comes up whether the advantages of the system won’t take a backseat as soon as cars increasingly will drive autonomously. The journey will then rather go in the direction of voice commands as well as gesture and gaze control processed by in-car artificial intelligence.

Will the Mercedes me ecosystem at some point open up for third-party developers and products?

We’re already open for products from third-party suppliers. And it’s, of course, imaginable that we bring third-party developers on to the platform, as long as their apps are tested and approved by Mercedes. A completely different aspect in this discussion is the question whether apps haven’t already passed the zenith of their hype cycle. Instead of counting on the manual opening and operating of an app, I’m betting on intuitive operation through artificial intelligence, which controls the software for me. In my view, the relevance of third-party apps will gradually decrease. What’s exciting is the question how quickly this process will run its course.