Holger G. Weiss © German Autolabs

18 February 2019

“When the subject of AI comes up, there is a sudden outcry from all corners. But everyone uses it almost every day.”

Driving a car while holding a mobile phone does not only endanger your driving, it is also very painful to your purse: In 2016 the police handled altogether 398,000 persons violating the prohibition to use a mobile while driving. With this in mind and to stop this behaviour once and for all, the German Autolabs around CEO Holger G. Weiss have developed the first digital passenger. “Chris“ looks after text messages, e-mails, incoming calls, directions and suitable background music by means of AI, voice- and gesture control.

How did it come about that you developed ‘Chris’, the digital assistant for car drivers, and what exactly are his tasks?

It was a personal experience - as is often the case - when Chris came to my mind. I was travelling on the motorway and my mobile vibrated continuously with messages. But at 120 km/h it was impossible to answer. The phone did not only make me angry, but I was also distracted by the vibrations. At that time I had already professionally been working in the section of Connected Car and Tech and I asked myself why there was no suitable solution for this problem. A digital passenger, who knows me, with whom I can communicate and who takes care that I am not distracted. And now we have ‘Chris’.  Chris reads incoming messages and Whatsapp, listens and sends answers. By using Chris, car drivers will also get an intelligent navigation device that is voice-controlled and always finds the best way. Chris offers all functions such as the turn-by-turn-navigation.

What kind of technologies have been used for the voice- and gesture control apart from Artificial Intelligence?

Apart from AI we use digital audio processing such as Acoustic Echo Cancellation, Beam Forming and other audio improving functions in order to improve our speech recognition functions. A good speech recognition system is based on a clean and robust audio processing infrastructure. We must be able to differentiate between music playback or noises and user comments. Additionally, the microphones must be focussed towards the driver instead of pointing into other directions, for instance, towards the children in the back.

In case of the gesture sensor, we use an infrared technology to recognise movements made by a hand. A hand movement is recognised as a continuous measuring flow. These measurings must be interpreted to decide whether the user has moved to the left or right or whether he has moved towards or away from the device in order to adjust the volume.

Autonomous driving, intelligent camera systems, digital passengers: How do you assess the car industry - do you think they are ready for innovations and here especially in respect of Artificial Intelligence?

No manufacturer can afford to turn away from this development as it is first and foremost pushed forward by companies from the software development sector who have originally not been part of the car industry. Companies such as Mobileye or Waymo are software development companies only, whose products have been integrated and who have revolutionised motoring within a few years. And therefore classic manufacturers must follow this trend with their own developments or in cooperation with others.

Berlin is considered to be the stronghold for start-ups in Europe. What is the reason for AI start-ups to set up their company just here in this city?

Berlin as become increasingly more attractive especially for international Tech-talents. Compared to Silicon Valley, life in this city is considerably less expensive and cultural life, too, has lots to offer; this is what attracts talented people. Berlin has come into focus for international investors, too, and cannot be ignored anymore.  There are many hubs, laboratories, and eco systems developing in the area of AI, automotive and IoT are driving innovation forward in these sectors.

Many AI-projects already greatly influence our everyday life in a positive way. What do you think are the challenges and chances but also the problems for Artificial Intelligence on a European and global level in future?

Yes, and it is crazy that we accept most of it as a matter of fact: If a search engine shows results that fit exactly my requirements, and where I only entered a fraction of a search word, or when my smartphone navigation changes depending on the time of day and the day itself, etc. Especially in Europe it is advisable not to call a spade a spade, as the mention of AI always ends in an outcry, although everyone uses it daily. But this is not to say that we should not feel apprehensive in some cases, i.e. in case where the personal issues of someone are directly involved. It is here that many issues will have to be adapted and be driven forward in the coming years - and this starts right at the bottom - within the system of values of society.

What advice would you give to the innovation enthusiasts who want to start-up a business in Berlin?

Go ahead and do it! Setting a goal is one side, going the first step the other side. Berlin has the right setting - start immediately.