Saturday, 17 December 2016

BMW teams with IBM’s Watson on driver-assist technology

IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence system is perhaps best known for helping doctors identify cancer treatments and for beating previous champions at “Jeopardy!”

Now, it might soon become known in the auto industry for helping to make vehicles safer and more personalized.

IBM said today that it has partnered with BMW Group to research how Watson can help with driver-assist functions. A team of BMW engineers will work with IBM researchers and developers at the technology company’s new Watson Internet of Things headquarters in Munich.

Four BMW i8 hybrid sports cars will be connected to IBM’s Bluemix cloud platform “to demonstrate how Watson can enable new conversational interfaces between cars and drivers,” IBM said in a statement today.

“With this agreement, our companies will work together to lay the foundations so that BMW’s drivers can benefit from Watson’s conversational and machine learning capabilities,” Harriet Green, IBM global head of the Watson Internet of Things business, said in the statement.

“Our insight shows that while the car will remain a fixture in personal transportation, the driving experience will change more over the next decade than at any other time of the automobile’s existence,” Green said.

BMW’s agreement with IBM is the latest move by an automaker to get a leg up in the race to develop fully connected vehicles. Automakers and suppliers have invested billions of dollars in recent years to develop technology related to connected and autonomous vehicles.

The i8’s owner manual will be uploaded into Watson, which will allow drivers to ask questions about the vehicle in their “natural” language and receive answers while safely driving, said Niklaus Waser, IBM head of Watson Internet of Things in Europe, in an interview.

Watson will also be able to incorporate traffic updates and weather information to make up-to-the-minute route suggestions, and it will be able to monitor driver behavior to personalize the car to enhance safety, performance and comfort, Waser said.

“We will work together so that BMW drivers can benefit from Watson’s machine learning capabilities,” he said.

IBM this year said it would invest $200 million into the Munich Watson Internet of Things headquarters, where it plans to collaborate with companies in industries including automotive, health care and electronics.

BMW is the first automaker to partner with IBM’s Watson team in Munich. Waser said IBM hopes to collaborate with other automakers in the future, as well.

“There is no reason why we should do this only with BMW, and BMW has not asked for exclusivity,” Waser said.

He did not disclose how many engineers and researchers were assigned to the BMW project.

While BMW is the first automaker to collaborate with IBM with Watson in Munich, it is not the first time IBM has teamed with an automaker on connectivity. It partnered with PSA Peugeot Citroen in 2015 to connect vehicles to the Internet, while General Motors said in October that it would use Watson software to identify driver behavior and market services to motorists using that information.

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