2019 will mark the debut of the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant in production cars, with models of the 8 Series, X5 and Z4 to be among the first to receive it as part of BMW iDrive Operating System 7.0 and the Live Cockpit Professional. Perhaps best envisioned as an automotive version of Siri, Cortana, Alexa, or Google Assistant, BMW’s version is slated to become an integral component of the iDrive system, and promises to capitalize on advancements in machine learning to become innately aware of the unique facets of the vehicle’s owner. All it takes is saying the words, “Hey BMW” to get things rolling, and the Intelligent Personal Assistant is at your beckoned call.

Voice commands and GPS navigation prompts have been present in the automotive industry for some time now, with functional versions dating back to the 1970’s on high-line offerings like the bizarre Mazda Roadpacer with its dictation system, and a few years later with the Chrysler Lebaron and its Electronic Voice Alert (EVA) option. Evolutions of these systems began to transition towards ubiquity around twenty years ago when satellite-based navigation established itself as the way of the future, with on-demand voice prompts for your exit or turn becoming an integral component of the concept. It wasn’t long before a talk or voice button began appearing on steering wheels either, with BMW among the first manufactures to sell all of their vehicles with prewiring for a mobile phone and other expandable electronics like bluetooth, regardless if the car had been optioned with all of the features.

These systems remain rather clunky and painful to operate even today, and of the two cars I own that have voice recognition systems which allow me to manipulate infotainment and navigation via voice as opposed to pressing buttons, I almost never use the capability on either. My 2012 BMW is just new enough to be able to sync with my phone to display text messages, and having them on the iDrive screen while blasting down the interstate is nice, but tasking the system with actually reading what my friends or family are trying to say doesn’t provide much more utility beyond a good laugh.

This is all about to change however, as the new Intelligent Personal Assistant is promising to bridge the gap between the poor voice commands on cars and phones from a decade ago and the modern systems like Cortana or Siri that actually make our lives easier after the short learning curve has been circumnavigated. Better yet, deep integration with devices like Alexa and other digital voice assistants is promised, along with a connection for services like Microsoft Office 365 and Skype. Referring to the owner’s manual to decipher cryptic dashboard warning light symbols won’t be necessary anymore either, as the system will simply tell you a tire is low or make an appointment automatically for some other fault—perhaps it won’t be long before the car does a complete diagnosis and simply drives to the dealer service center on its own!

The video below, from the BMW Group YouTube channel does a great job of showing off the capability of the system, demonstrating how it can transcend conventional expectations and go so far as to eliminate those moments where we previously had to pull out our phones to figure out how some foreign feature on our new BMW works.—Alex Tock

[Images and video courtesy BMW Group.]



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