30 May 2018

INTERVIEW: Holger G. Weiss of German Autolabs

You might be used to calling 'Hey Google...', or even 'Alexa...' to get a response from your smart assistant, but what about in the car? Soon you might be having a chat with Chris... and no, that isn't Chris pictured above. That's a guy called Holger, inventor of Chris. Read on, it'll make more sense...

Hello. Who are you?

Holger G. Weiss, founder and CEO of German Autolabs.

And what do you do?

I manage German Autolabs together with my co-founder Patrick. With a team of more than 25 employees in Berlin we are working on making driving safer, more convenient and fun for everyone by developing an assistant for drivers.

Tell us how you got started in that.

Ha ha, I hired myself - one of the good sides of being a founder. Seriously: After my studies and the usual trainee I joined my first startup in 2000 in Berlin, dealing with maps and data. When SatNavs came up we got big, sold the company to Nokia and it turned to Nokia Maps, today known as HERE Technologies and lately acquired by the big German car-makers for roughly three billion Euros. I started to invest myself and later joined AUPEO!, a streaming radio provider which pivoted to a platform and turned into another mobility gig later acquired by Panasonic of North America in 2013. With 20 years startups knowledge and a strong focus on Automotive I was ready for another challenge: German Autolabs.

What is an average day like for you?

Getting up early checking what happened overnight, going to the office (and usually cleaning the dishwasher and starting the coffee machine :-)), followed by meetings, calls, interviews like this one, calls, meetings and did I mention calls?

Tell us about Chris.

Chris is the first assistant specifically made for drivers. The smart design device fits into every car and features a great voice assistant with additional gesture control. Chris listens and talks to you, just like a human co-driver, and gives you touch-free access to the apps and and services you really need while driving: messaging, navigation, calls and music. Best of all: Chris also works when you lose your Internet connection, which often happens while driving. It keeps listening and answering to your requests.

Where do you see voice assistants and car tech going in the near future, and how might you have to adapt?

Autonomous driving is coming (BTW rather later than sooner in relevant numbers) and sometimes people say: Holger, I won't need an assistant any more because i can handle my phone once the car is driving itself. But that´s not whats going to happen. Chris is a digital co-driver, an intelligent assistant powered by artificial intelligence and one day it also understands the car, the environment, your blood-pressure, the cognitive load - that's where we are working on. Even a self-driving car needs a human-machine interface - and voice interaction is just the way to go. Guess why Picard is talking to the Enterprise, not operating a touchscreen....

What advice would you offer to someone keen to follow in your footsteps?

Three tipps: First of all - whatever you don´t do is wrong. Secondly there is no golden bullet to solve all problems. Thirdly: It will take longer than you expect (...and since I am doing it the third time, I have to know it ;))

Apart from your own product, what kind of gadget would you like to see being reviewed on The Test Pit.

Please review the Vorwerk Thermomix. This device apparently changed cooking to many people as Jamie Oliver did before. I like cooking, and I would like to understand how a machine can make complex things so simple. We have Thermomix printed magazines meanwhile...give it a try!

Will do. Cheers Holger, and best of luck with Chris.

Find out more at www.germanautolabs.com

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