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Mercedes-Benz to make MBUX artificial intelligence tech even more proactive

But only on the driver's terms.

Mercedes' MBUX infotainment tech can be controlled via touchscreen, touchpad, steering-wheel thumbpads or by natural-speech voice commands.

One of the most novel features of Mercedes-Benz's MBUX infotainment tech is its voice-activated virtual assistant. The company's artificial intelligence software allows a driver to search for destinations, control vehicle functions and more. And as MBUX evolves, Mercedes says improving this natural-language relationship between car and driver is particularly important.

The goal is to "make the system even more natural," Nils Schanz, head of user interaction for Mercedes-Benz research and development, told members of the media during a Friday conference call. That means creating a system that's both more proactive and empathic, taking into account things like tone of voice or which person is talking in the car, serving "the right response and the right tone," Schanz said.

This means MBUX might soon offer the option to remove its wake-up word -- the "Hey, Mercedes" command that activates the AI tech. But Schanz knows this isn't a solution everyone will want.

"Some [drivers] prefer to have a proactiveness and some don't at all," Schanz said. "How proactive should the system be?" If a wake-up word is no longer required, it means the MBUX assistant will always be listening, chiming in when the AI algorithm deems it appropriate.

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"We will be very careful on that one," Schanz said. "We will offer something only if the customer wants it. ... Customers will not accept when we do something wrong here."

Mercedes-Benz says a vast majority of its users use voice commands as part of their interactions with MBUX. According to company data, 80% of customers view voice as the system's most important control element. In Europe, the average MBUX customer uses the "Hey, Mercedes" element roughly 40 times per month, Schanz said.

How else is Mercedes looking to enhance MBUX? The company wants to improve the tech's response times, add additional elements to the system's feature set -- including jokes! -- and roll out even more connected services. MBUX now offers smart home integration, food ordering and movie ticket purchasing in China, and the automaker is actively working on bringing these features to customers in other countries, including the US.

Even as Mercedes-Benz works to expand the breadth of MBUX's capabilities, the company will continue to offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support within this infotainment package. That said, "Most of our customers are preferring MBUX," Schanz said, with only about 10% of owners choosing Apple CarPlay over the native software.

"We invest in controlling the whole experience in the car," Schanz said. "Our clear goal is to have the better system."