Owners of 2016 and 2017 Mercedes-Benz models can now ask Google's or Amazon's in-home digital assistants to help them handle car-related tasks -- for instance, lock their vehicle remotely or look up a coffee shop address and send it to a vehicle's navigation system.
Longer term, Mercedes owners will be able to use a Mercedes-created digital assistant inside the car, though company researchers are still figuring out what should be controlled by in-car voice commands and how long it will take to add such a feature.
"We are interested in these new assistants [because] they are based on artificial intelligence and they become better and better over time and they learn," said Nils Schanz, head of Internet of Things and wearable integration at Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America Inc. "We believe that speech -- the whole voice recognition with natural language understanding technology -- will become more and more important."
Mercedes joins a range of automakers integrating with speech-activated assistants. At the CES technology expo in January, four automakers -- Ford, Volkswagen, Nissan and BMW -- talked about plans to use assistants such as Amazon's Alexa with their vehicles.
Mercedes launched phase one of its new service in late April by enabling the use of the Amazon and Google assistants. Mercedes customers who own the devices need only to download the Google Home or Amazon Alexa apps and connect their Mercedes Me accounts. Mercedes Me is a package of services and products from Mercedes that also offers vehicle owners access to their cars via a smartphone app.
In addition to locking vehicles or sending navigation info, users can activate other functions using natural speech commands. For instance, customers can say, "OK, Google, tell Mercedes Me to start my car," and the car will remotely start.