Communication between humans and machine in practice.

Future Talk Robotics.

Mercedes-Benz teaches autonomous cars how to talk.
  • Future Talk Robotics.

  • The first words.

    The fact that cars are able to perform more and more tasks autonomously, meaning that they are gradually becoming mobile robots, is now beyond dispute. This will not just lead to changes in motoring itself, however; traffic conditions on the whole will change, too. This is why Mercedes-Benz looks at much more than just the technical issues when developing autonomous cars. Company representatives from the Group Research and Futurology department therefore met with robotics research experts and linguists to discuss the key issues at the second Mercedes-Benz Future Talk: How will we communicate with autonomous cars in the future? Can an autonomous car “wave” a pedestrian over the road? Is the car speaking to me or to the person next to me?

    Kinetic Robots can already be controlled by gestures.

    And what does 'speaking' even mean in this context? Will we have to learn robot grammar or must the car be able to understand us? And how can this language be developed? Should it be intuitive or artificial?

    Prof. Dr. Kohler at the Mercedes-Benz Future Talk in Berlin.

    Interactive traffic.

    'The traffic of the future will become increasingly interactive – and I don't just mean the networking of vehicles,' stated Prof. Dr. Kohler, Head of Group Research and Sustainability and Chief Environmental Officer at Daimler AG.

    'We view it as our elementary task to put autonomous cars on the road not just as technological achievements but also to make them an integral part of the traffic of the future. Here the social aspects are at least equally important as the sensors in the car.'

    Alexander Mankowsky explains the communications languages for the interaction between humans and machine.

    Mobility of the future.

    Alexander Mankowsky, a futurologist at Daimler AG, added: “We see the car that drives itself – the autonomous robot – embedded in the overall picture of future mobility, with humans playing the main role in our vision of the future. The task is to develope a cooperative system in which one or more communication languages are essential to allow interaction between humans and machine intelligence in the dense urban environment.” He also thinks that there may even be a robot-language dictionary in the future. According to Mankowsky, calling for people to adapt to the machines should not be the aim by any means in any of the deliberations. It is much more a case of building trust and confidence as human-machine communication gets more and more intensive.

    Co-existence with autonomous robots.

    On an everyday level, communication with autonomous vehicles is still new territory. This is why Mercedes-Benz joined forces with Ars Electronica Futurelab to create an “experimentation field” capable of testing various forms of interaction between humans and kinetic robots using prototypes. In a test setting, three interactive quadcopters were hailed, stopped or steered in a certain direction using gesture control or a haptic control object, for instance. This gave an initial idea of what co-existence between humans and autonomous machines could feel like in the shared space of the future.

    Interactive Quadcopters can be controlled by using gesture control or a haptic control object.
    The Future Talk introduced last year by Mercedes-Benz established a new dialogue format.

    Interdisciplinary dialogue.

    The Future Talk introduced last year by Mercedes-Benz established a new dialogue format and asked the question “How Utopian is the future?”. By exchanging ideas with vanguards from various disciplines, the brand shares its visions and, as the inventor of the automobile, demonstrates its expertise in shaping a desirable, mobile future.

    Mercedes-Benz is convinced that what seems a long way off can quickly become a reality, believing that it is essential to develop a shared interaction language to enable functioning social “human-machine cooperation” in the traffic of the future. The automotive manufacturer will continue to work towards this goal.