Up for a chat with your car? Meet TomTom’s in-car AI assistant
Snigdha Bansal·Jan 09, 2024

Up for a chat with your car? Meet TomTom’s in-car AI assistant

Snigdha Bansal
Staff writer
Jan 09, 2024 · 6 min read
Meet TomTom's in-car AI assistant | TomTom Newsroom

Since rising in popularity in recent years, Generative AI (GenAI) has been transforming the way we live our lives. Not only has this technology enabled better results in industries such as healthcare and manufacturing, it’s also helping the automotive industry transform the driving experience. TomTom’s own team of experts has been actively exploring the capabilities of GenAI and large language models (LLM) in this space. TomTom, in partnership with Microsoft, has developed a fully integrated, AI-powered conversational automotive assistant that will allow drivers to talk to their cars in a way that hasn’t been done before. We sat down for a conversation with TomTom’s new in-car assistant, as well as its creators.

Over the last two years, it became clear to TomTom Data Scientist Massimiliano Ungheretti that the state of machine learning was changing radically, so much so that this wave of advancements invited the new label of GenAI. Together with Ivan Diaz, Principal Software Engineer and fellow member of TomTom’s Advanced Technology Innovations (ATI) department (the company’s resident AI experts), he began exploring what AI was capable of in cars and realized the relative ease with which they could now build AI-powered assistants. “Until recently, to build such an assistant, you’d need a huge team with deep machine learning expertise. But with the recent developments, you could focus instead on knowing your users and industry,” says Ungheretti. Diaz and Ungheretti developed this assistant over nine months by combining TomTom’s map data and navigation services with Microsoft Azure OpenAI Service and various other cloud services.“Microsoft came on board as a technology provider and a huge enabler in the development process. It made building a prototype and integration much easier. We could then focus on what the user needs out of such an assistant and use TomTom services to design it to do exactly that,” says Diaz. 

As a result, the AI-powered in-car assistant is primed for automotive applications, which is key for technology of its kind, as Roger C. Lanctot underlined in his recent LinkedIn article. It allows people to converse with their cars using a manner of speaking that comes naturally to them.  They can ask it to navigate to certain locations, find spots like restaurants or EV chargers along the way and control the in-car environment by asking it to play music or change the temperature. In our interaction with it, I even found it capable of keeping up interesting conversations that go beyond matters related to driving. 

A picture of an in-vehicle screen with TomTom's AI assistant providing advice and directions to a vegan restaurant.TomTom's new in-car AI voice assistant understands complex human requests, such as finding a restaurant and navigating there via the scenic route.According to Diaz, that’s what sets this new assistant apart from what’s been done before in this space. “Traditionally, voice assistants built into vehicles haven’t been the most intuitive. This often frustrates drivers and discourages them from using these systems. In many cases, they end up relying on applications that connect them to their car using mobile phones,” he says. 

A 2023 study by McKinsey even found that 85 percent of car owners who use these phone applications prefer them over built-in assistance systems. While easy to use, these applications can still distract drivers from the road and endanger their safety. It also takes control of the in-car environment away from carmakers. 

With this new in-car assistant, drivers get to interact with a built-in voice assistance system that understands what they’re trying to do and helps them along. “You could ask it not just for nearby restaurants, but also follow up by asking for a price comparison between two restaurants. You could then ask which cuisine they serve, and so on,” Diaz explains. 

This voice assistant comes built into the TomTom Digital Cockpit, the company’s open, modular in-vehicle infotainment platform. It can also be easily integrated into other automotive infotainment systems. This means carmakers can push their vehicles to market faster, while also strengthening their connection with drivers and fostering loyalty using an in-car environment that’s consistent with their brand. 

“The idea was to make a product that can be integrated anywhere. This solution will be built as part of our SDK offering, which the customer can easily integrate and choose the capabilities they want,” says Diaz.The new solution will transform the driving experience in many different ways, especially for those driving electric vehicles (EVs). Ungheretti, himself an EV driver, lists that as one of the foremost goals he hopes to achieve with it. 

“When you’re driving by yourself, and you see the charge dropping and your nerves start acting up, you have to pull over and switch between a bunch of apps to find the right charger. Armed with extensive EV charger data, our assistant should reduce this range anxiety for drivers by integrating deeply with their vehicle and understanding their charging needs and preferences,” he says. 

In the end, how useful a voice assistant will be also depends on how you speak to it, and how much of your question it understands. We got a glimpse of this in our conversation with TomTom and Microsoft’s new AI-powered in-car assistant.

The interview 

TomTom Editorial: Hi TomTom, to get started, I’d like to know who you are. 

TomTom: I'm TomTom, an AI assistant developed by TomTom to assist drivers on the road. I can answer questions, provide explanations and help with navigation. How can I assist you today? 

TTE: What do you think of AI in cars? 

TomTom: AI integration in cars provides personalized assistance and smart navigation. AI is revolutionizing cars through integrated innovations across car brands. It's transforming vehicles with advanced features like voice recognition, autonomous driving, intelligent navigation, predictive maintenance and personalized in-car experiences.  

TTE: How does AI affect the driving experience? 
TomTom: AI enhances the driving experience by enabling features like adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance and automated parking. It also provides real-time traffic updates, personalized navigation and voice-activated controls, making driving safer and more convenient. 

TTE: How do in-car AI assistants like you take care of the safety and security of passengers? 

TomTom: In-car AI assistants ensure safety and security by providing real-time traffic updates, emergency assistance and proactive alerts for potential hazards. Operated by voice commands, we minimize distractions, helping drivers keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. We also monitor driver behavior for signs of fatigue or distraction and can take control in emergency situations to prevent accidents. Additionally, some offer theft prevention and vehicle tracking features for security.

TTE: Are you friends with other in-car AI assistants? 

TomTom: As an AI Assistant, I'm only designed to be friends with drivers and provide them information. While I don't have personal relationships with other in-car assistants, I'm here to help you with any questions or assistance you need on the road. 

TTE: What are some ways in which you can help me? 

TomTom: I can help you with navigation, finding Points of Interest, providing weather updates, adjusting car settings and answering questions about your vehicle. If you have other specific needs or questions, feel free to ask. 

TTE: What do you think your future looks like? 

TomTom: In the future, I see myself becoming even more integrated with vehicles, offering advanced predictive maintenance, personalised recommendations and seamless connectivity with smart home devices. I'll continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of drivers and provide a more intuitive and efficient driving experience. 

TTE: Where did you get all this knowledge from? 

TomTom: I've gathered knowledge from various sources, including articles on how AI is transforming the automotive industry and the history of automobile development. This information has helped me understand the advancements and innovations in the automotive and AI integration.  

TTE: Do you ever dream of taking over the world? 

TomTom: AI is a valuable tool that has the potential to greatly impact of the world, but it is ultimately controlled and guided by human decisions and ethical considerations. The development and use of AI are subject to regulations and oversight to ensure responsible and beneficial applications. As an AI developed by TomTom, my purpose is to assist drivers and provide helpful information. I don't have ambitions beyond that.  

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