German Autolabs Interview About Chris, the AI Assistant for Drivers

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Driving a car is one of the most fun things to do, well, not so much when you’re stuck in hours of traffic. Still, one has to realize that despite the fun aspect, driving is not as safe as we would like due to our constant need to grab our smartphones.

Additionally, most vehicles on public roads today lack the built-in smarts to aid drivers during their daily commute. That’s where Chris comes into play, a device designed to help drivers enjoy their journey without having to sacrifice safety.

Chris is a digital assistant for drivers that allow them to enjoy apps and other features on their mobile device without the need for physical interaction. It’s basically Alexa for drivers, and that’s what makes it interesting.

Now, we had the chance to speak with the creators of Chris, German Autolabs; and they were kind enough to answer our questions

Why Is Chris Important for Drivers?

Chris tackles one of the fundamental problems of today´s traffic: Distracted driving. For the first time in a decade, the number of fatal accidents on American highways is on the rise, experts call this, “the snapchat effect“.

We see similar numbers in Europe. Governments try to address the problem with bans and related fees rising. Still, way too many people are fiddling with their phones while behind the wheel.

Chris Is Designed to Keep Drivers From Being Distracted, but It Has a Screen. Could You Explain This?

The fundamental idea behind Chris is based on three layers of technology: #1 Natural Language Understanding where you don´t need to talk in standardized sentences. #2 Simplified gestures to navigate lists like multiple contacts with the same first name or music libraries. #3 A glanceable screen with basic information giving you an idea of what you were doing when traffic took your full attention seconds before.

We believe that the combination of all three is what takes the acceptance of the digital assistant to a level where it really reduces distracted driving.

How Great Is Chris at Voice Recognition, and Is It Using Homegrown Software?

The voice recognition stack is very complex and we decided to go with leading solutions where it makes sense. Example: ASR (Automated Speech Recognition) and TTS (Text-to-Speech) so turning voice into machine-readable text and back, are both technologies with a high level of maturity – in fact, today´s recognition rates are on the same level as humans.

We license both from a leading supplier. The interesting part where the devil is in the detail is in between both: Understanding natural language and the speaker´s intent, modeling a dialogue and generate natural language is where Chris will set itself apart from all other solutions available in the car.

Can Chris Work Without a Smartphone Connection?

Chris is supposed to stay connected to your phone via Bluetooth (LE) all the time. It supports multiple users profiles, i.e. connects to multiple phones (which allows sharing one device).

What Makes Chris Different From Google Assistant, Which Is Now Integrated With Android Auto?

First of all, you need to purchase a car that has Android Auto built in or have one installed in a garage. Chris doesn´t care how old your car is, it always works. Secondly: Chris works offline, without an internet connection. It listens and talks to you even when you´ve lost internet connectivity.

What Are Your Plans Going Forward to Convince Automakers to Install Chris Into Their Vehicles?

We are based in Germany, home of the Autobahn. We are very well connected to every major automaker, they are following our work with high interest as everyone is looking for an integrated solution where the automakers own the brand experience and user data is not going to US tech giants like Apple or Google.

Is German Autolabs Working on Any Other Interesting Automotive Products?

Of course. All we can disclose right now is that we are launching Chris at IFA Berlin (starting August 30th) with general availability in the UK, Germany and the rest of Europe.

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