Artificial Intelligence meets character

How AI revolutionises the relation to the car

Ask Mercedes

Take a seat in the car and let your eye wander over the still-unfamiliar cockpit. Is there a control that is not immediately obvious as to what it does or a function you cannot find straight away? Just Ask Mercedes. Daimler is enhancing communication with additional digital channels, making leafing through operating instructions, handbooks or quick start guides a thing of the past. The ‘Ask Mercedes’ application ensures that every user gets their bearings in the vehicle quickly. The virtual assistant is activated by voice, using a smartphone keyboard or camera. A system comprising artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) running in the background then ensures that even a modern car with its numerous functions, possible configurations and assistance systems can be understood at the drop of a hat.

The concept

More functions, less complexity

The idea for this chatbot application was born during Digital Life Day 2016. The aim of Daimler’s in-house format is to identify trends and digital topics. Employees are encouraged to present and submit their ideas in a mix of an ideas exchange and workshop. The participants identified the chatbot concept as a modern way of making it easier for customers to interact with their vehicles. Vehicles, which offer an ever-increasing number of functions, thus also making them more complicated.

Everything then happened very quickly following the Digital Life Day: A so-called minimum viable product (MVP) was developed to test the feasibility and the acceptance of the chatbot. At the end of the MVP phase, the participants were certain that chatbots could ensure Mercedes-Benz customers get to know and experience their vehicle in a completely new way. The experts then added another future trend to the concept – augmented reality. The functionalities of Ask Mercedes are built on these two pillars.

The benefit

Daimler is positioning Ask Mercedes precisely on a customer pain point. The range of functions in vehicles and the supplementary service offer is continuously increasing. That’s why it is becoming more and more important to engage in a close dialogue with customers. The company wants customers to be able to inform themselves and get answers to unresolved issues anytime and anywhere. The first step of this process should be as simple and interesting as possible for the user. This is why additional quick start guides and tutorial videos are available on the website alongside the detailed operating instructions. Ask Mercedes is not replacing the previous sources of information, it is simply providing the driver with another way of getting to know their vehicle. The application is a new, interactive addition to the options for communicating with customers.

This eliminates the need to search through pre-set structures such as alphabetised lists. Instead, Ask Mercedes always puts the needs of the customer and their situation first by giving them the exact information they need at that specific moment whilst remaining both charming and informative.

The project

In April 2017, Daimler and adesso set about developing this infrastructure. They released the first iOS version of an app just seven months later. In this short period of time, they together established the technical foundations, developed the application and coordinated the content creation process.

To kick off the Ask Mercedes project, the experts from Daimler and adesso chose IBM Watson as the AI basis and decided on components from Vuforia for the AR side. But this technology is just one aspect of Ask Mercedes. The team was faced with the challenge of giving an artificial intelligence a personality.

“We wanted to develop a system that doesn’t just provide information but is also just fun and encourages the customers to engage in a dialogue.”

Stefan Hussmann, Director of the Automotive and Transportation Line of Business at adesso AG
adesso AG

The chatbot

A chatbot with charm

Ask Mercedes is not just a pure information system. Interacting with the app should feel natural, be it via speech or text. This means the user should forget that they are communicating with a chatbot rather than a person.

The idea is that the chatbot does not simply display sections from the manual that might fit the search. It should be a knowledgeable chatbot having a conversion with a driver about their car.

The fact that Ask Mercedes comes across this way is down to the attention to detail displayed by the team during the development of the ‘Mercedes’ chatbot personality.

The team first designed a complete personality profile. The chatbot was then fed with facts about the car and taught to find the correct answers to the most important questions. To do this, information from every department involved was gathered, which the team then made compatible with the app. At the same time, the participants initially collected around 6,000 customer responses and analysed queries sent to the Daimler Customer Contact Center over the course of just under a year. This gave the team a detailed insight into the information needs of the customers

The result

While this took place, the participants set about breathing life into the personality profile. After all, it is important that Ask Mercedes’ unique personality also shines through in the way it answers, sometimes with a wink, sometimes with a bit of attitude. “A lot of users began to grill the app a little bit after they had asked the first few technical questions,” says Stefan Hussmann. As part of the conversational user experience concept, adesso hired scriptwriters to come up with the most creative and surprising answers possible for Ask Mercedes to give in this situation. Just a hint: Ask about the lottery numbers.

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