German car manufacturer Volkswagen wants to integrate the chatbot ChatGPT, from OpenAI, into its vehicles as early as mid-2024. On January 9, Volkswagen presented vehicles equipped with ChatGPT controlled voice assistants at CES 2024 in Las Vegas.

The vehicles are expected to come onto the market in North America and Europe in the second quarter of 2024 and will be bundled with latest generation of infotainment in the ID.7, ID.4, ID.5, ID.3, the Tiguan, the Passat, as well as in the Golf.

Volkswagen developed the voice assistant in collaboration with the American software company Cerence.

ChatGPT enables Volkswagen’s built-in voice assistant to conduct a dialog with the vehicle occupants, and can also prioritize tasks, execute functions or search for destinations.

For example, the Volkswagen Assistant can interpret and respond to various non-conventional commands. For example, the assistant can increase the temperature when it hears, “I’m cold.”

With IDA, the voice assistant in Volkswagen vehicles, no new accounts or apps are needed. Activation is initiated when the user says, “Hello IDA” or presses the steering wheel button.

The company has taken pains to ensure data protection by immediately deleting questions and answers without accessing vehicle data. This secure, seamlessly integrated feature enhances IDA’s capabilities, offering drivers ease of use and accurate responses.

Voice commands will also be extended to popular third-party services, allowing users to interact with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto without buttons.

Volkswagen says it is the first major manufacturer to introduce the AI voice assistant as standard. However, General Motors and Mercedes-Benz have also already experimented with ChatGPT.

Gartner analyst Pedro Pacheco said the adoption of ChatGPT and other gen AI-powered tools by automakers is an important step forward for the automotive industry, which has for years struggled to offer drivers and passengers intuitive voice command features.

“Even if the technology has improved dramatically in last 20 years, they are still far from intuitive, so the driver still needs to use specific cue words in order to get the functionalities,” he says. “What a large language model brings greater context awareness. This is obviously quite beneficial, but it depends how it is implemented by the automakers.”

While AI-based voice assistants could be helpful with directions or finding information on points of interest, for example, a program’s capability to interact with the vehicle itself—whether for the climate control or the infotainment system—depends on how well the automaker has integrated the technology with the vehicle’s own operating system.

“If the automaker trains a large language model to recognize all sorts of commands related to the vehicle, then this can be quite interesting, because it will provide this level of intuitiveness that is necessary for a driver to control a vehicle using voice,” Pacheco explains.

However, if that large language model training is not done, the driver will still benefit from the general capabilities of ChatGPT, but it will not benefit a lot in terms of vehicle function control.

“It’s important not to be driven by the hype, because as you know, these days everyone says AI, and it’s like the magic word,” he says.

He points out carmakers are rushing into implementing large language models into their voice assistants because they want to claim first mover advantage.

“ChatGPT and voice systems are a step forward no doubt, but it depends on the degree of implementation done by the automaker or the technology partners,” he says.

Pacheco says he sees the steps taken by Volkswagen, Mercedes and others as the starting point for implementing GenAI tech in vehicles and admits it will be exciting to watch automakers explore the full reach of technological capabilities.

“We’re not there yet–I don’t believe any carmaker is there yet,” he says. “But once we get there, this will lead to a radical redefinition of the human machine interface of the vehicle.”