Move over, Alexa. Out of the way, Siri. Dee has something to say.
Dee — which is short for Digital Emotional Experience — is the new, AI-powered virtual voice assistant BMW is debuting at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Think of her as Alexa with a bit of an attitude.
She might have good reason, as she’s the heart of the concept sedan dubbed i Vision Dee that showcases what the Bavarian automaker calls its “futuristic midsize sedan.” The all-electric show car is filled with an array of high-tech features, including a head-up display stretching across the entire windshield, body panels that can change colors and patterns and, the seemingly requisite autonomous driving technology.
“With the BMW i Vision Dee, we are showcasing what is possible when hardware and software merge” the automaker’s CEO Oliver Zipse said ahead of the concept vehicles debut at CES 2023, where he’s a keynote speaker. A goal, Zipse added, is to “exploit the full potential digitalization to transform the car into an intelligent companion.”
A “pared down” concept vehicle
TheDetroitBureau.com had a chance to spend some time with the concept vehicle — and to interact with Dee — during a visit to Munich ahead of CES. The sedan is mounted atop the next-generation BMW EV architecture, dubbed Neue Klasse. It’s a dedicated, skateboard platform mounting batteries and motors below the load floor.
Compared to the new BMW iX battery-electric vehicles, it’s a surprisingly basic design, almost forgettable but for the technology that allows it to project colors and patterns on its windows and door panels. It has the expected BMW double-kidney grille and Hofmeister kink with the rear window but, explained the automaker, the i Vision Dee “has been deliberately pared down to focus attention on the digital experience and the DNA of the BMW brand.
And Dee “herself” quickly draws much of the attention. She’s more than ready to discuss the technology inside the sedan, as well as her own capabilities. When asked if she’s smarter than Amazon’s well-known voice assistant, she barely pauses to respond that, “I don’t think Alexa would like my answer.”
A wisecracking voice assistant
It was difficult to find anything Dee couldn’t or wouldn’t weigh in on, and when asked if she had reached the level of a sentient being, she explained that “It depends on your definition of life. Existentially, I exist.”
“AI will play a big role in the future of the user experience,” weighed in Kai Lanter, who helped developed the user experience in the i Vision Dee — and who might be considered the virtual assistant’s father.
There’s little doubt that today’s cars have become computers on wheels — and that there’ll be substantially more tech onboard in the years ahead.
Entering the metaverse
Building fully driverless vehicles has proven more difficult than once anticipated, but few doubt that tomorrow’s models will be able to handle driving duties autonomously under at least some conditions. The big head-up display system in the concept vehicle could be used to project movies and videos while traveling in autonomous mode, for example. It also could provide augmented reality displays, sensors helping flag pedestrians or animals who might otherwise be missed on a dark night.
The concept vehicle gives drivers a choice on how far they want to travel into the virtual world. Its “mixed reality sliders” give a motorist a five-step selection range from a normal view out the windshield all the way up to the point that you’ve fully descended into the metaverse. Don’t like the look of the trucks on the freeway, they can be made to look like whales or elephants or dinosaurs.
“With BMW i Vision Dee, we are showing how the car can be seamlessly integrated into your digital life and become a trusty companion,” said Adrian van Hooydonk, head of BMW Group Design. “The vehicle itself becomes your portal to the digital world — with the driver always in control. Implemented the right way, technology will create worthwhile experiences, make you a better driver and simply bring humans and machines closer together.”
“Not everything that sounds cool actually makes sense”
BMW is certainly not alone in exploring how AI-based technologies can change the driving experience.
We’re seeing more and more automakers, including Toyota, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, upgrade from conventional voice control systems to “smart voice assistants.” And BMW clearly intends to integrate a Dee-like system into future products, though Lanter cautioned that it does “not exactly have dates for real production.”
Indeed, the primary reason for putting together the i Vision Dee concept is to get a sense of how the public will react, not only to the wisecracking voice assistant but all the other technologies onboard.
“Not everything that sounds cool actually makes sense in a car,” acknowledged BMW Vice President Nikolai Glies.
But there’s little doubt, BMW officials contend, that some of the technology onboard i Vision Dee will make it into production, and that’s likely to include a version of Dee herself.