Voices heard inside cars now and in the future are changing due to the entry of tech giants into the automotive space, with multiple wake-up words, voice assistants and speech artificial intelligence. In this report, Auto Futures talks with industry analysts, automakers and providers to learn voice interaction trends in autos, present and future.
Automotive Voices of the Past
Previously, the voice functions in vehicles didn’t work very well. A driver would have to phrase questions according to a script. Often people, when they are unfamiliar with a system or can’t get it to work, will abandon it says, Aaron Dale, senior automotive analyst of UI/UX at IHS Markit.
“Voice systems in cars are getting better. They are more intuitive,” says Dale.
”However there is increasing use of Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto in cars to the extent that currently, 29% of the automotive market is Apple Carplay 18% of the market is Android Auto. By 2025 we expect 55% of the auto market with Apple CarPlay and 34% Android Auto.”
Alexa Has a Say Inside Cars
Although automakers have had Amazon Alexa device integration in their external smartphone apps for things such as remote start, unlock and fuel levels for a while. Alexa is getting a voice inside cars.
“We know customers love using Alexa at home and want to bring their digital lives into their vehicles. This collaboration represents the broadest embedded rollout of Alexa Auto to date,” says Steve London, head of connected vehicle solutions, General Motors.
“Our in-vehicle Alexa experience will make it easy for drivers of millions of eligible Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac vehicles to use Alexa, all while keeping their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.”
To engage Alexa functions in GM vehicles, customers will need the basic free OnStar Connected Services plan. To learn more about Alexa commands, the in-vehicle Alexa experience will have a get started feature that drivers can use to familiarize themselves with the Alexa functionality. Drivers will be able to access tens of thousands of Alexa skills with the in-vehicle Alexa experience.
Also, GM is delivering several categories of Alexa features that expand on the in-vehicle experience, including navigation, media and making phone calls, adds London.
Alexa, What Can You Do in Cars in The Future?
“When we talk to consumers, Amazon Alexa is not as compelling as their phone-branded systems such as Android Auto and CarPay that do a very good job with phone functions such as texting navigation and music in cars,” says Chris Schreiner, director of UX Syndicated Research at Strategy Analytics.
“We find that the consumer electronic devices such as Android Auto and CarPlay are far better with voice assistance then embedded car systems. We find consumers want to use their consumer electronic device that they use all the time in the car.”
Typically, consumers use smart speaker devices like Amazon Echo to do functions that are more complicated than they do on their phones – instead of going through menus to play a playlist on a smartphone they will say ‘Play my playlist’ which is easier, says Schreiner.
Since Alexa voice primarily lives on home speakers and devices, Amazon needs to be on-the-go with consumers in their cars, says Ava Mutchler co-founder and associate editor of Voicebot.ai. She reports that recently, Nationwide insurance to help keep drivers safe is giving away one million Amazon Echo Auto devices with skills for New Driver Checklist, Roadside Assistance and Road Conditions.
The Amazon Echo Auto automotive speaker with microphones connects to the Alexa app on a smartphone enabling hands-free voice operation of music, phone calls, navigation, music, Audible books and shopping/to-do lists while in the car.
Wake-Up Alliances Forming
In late September, Amazon, Baidu, BMW, Cerence (formerly Nuance), ecobee, Microsoft, Orange, Salesforce, SFR, Sonos, Spotify, Sound United, Tencent, Verizon and other partners announced that they will support multiple, interoperable voice services and multiple wake-up words on a single device, called the Voice Interoperability Initiative.
“The latest announcement for multiple wake-up words is important because the automakers don’t want to lose their brand recognition,” says Dale.
However, when there are multiple wake-up words, it will be complicated in how all the voice assistants will play together. Say someone hits the button on the steering wheel and says “Play Music”, will it play CarPlay music, Amazon music or the embedded music? asks Schreiner.
Hey Google, When Will I Talk to You in Cars?
In early September, GM announced it is working with Google to offer voice assistant, embedded navigation and in-vehicle applications such as climate control, to compatible Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac vehicles beginning in 2021.
The Polestar 2 has an infotainment system powered by Android, which includes the Google Assistant (for voice), Google Maps with support for electric vehicle charging and the Google Play Store. The Volvo Electric XC40 will include voice-controlled Google Assistant, Google Play Store, Google Maps and other services using Google Android Automotive software.
The Google Assistant is getting more sophisticated, notes Mutchler. Users can set up routines of multiple tasks. For example, the Google Home assistant morning routine can include weather, adjust lights, adjust a smart thermostat, as well as announce the news, commute traffic details and the daily calendar of events.
The whole idea of voice assistants is to reduce friction, adds Mutchler. There are now voice functions from Google Duplex in which it will do a task for you such as book a reservation for a restaurant. Google can also interact with smart appliances.
In the future, Mutchler imagines a plausible automated commuting home routine when a driver starts the commute home, Google Assistant will know from the smart refrigerator that the driver needs to pick up milk and it will plan a route to the market to get the milk before the route home.
Keep the Automotive Branding and Keep Talking
“The best voice interface increases safety and decreases the habit of looking down at the phone, as well as decreasing cognitive load. Automakers need to invest in a seamless automotive voice experience for their loyal users that does not just work, but delights them,” says Katie McMahon, vice president and general manager at SoundHound Inc.
Automakers risk disintermediation from their users by going with tech giants for their voice AI strategy. SoundHound invested in over ten years of development to build the Houndify voice AI platform that enables automakers to customize and control their user experience, says McMahon.
“Voice AI in automotive is an obvious must-have as Generation V (Voice) grows up with voice interaction and expects to be able to speak to the car in a natural way,” says McMahon who note that the Houndify voice AI platform enables natural spoken, complex and compound queries. Other in-car voice assistants force users to change the way they talk, making it more similar to using a search engine, rather than having a conversation.
“People don’t have to change the way they speak or talk in clipped Tarzan speak to interact with Houndify, which can answer complex, compound questions,” says McMahon, for example, “Find an Asian restaurant nearby that is not Japanese.”
Houndify’s Speech-to-Meaning and Deep Meaning Understanding is deployed in Kia Seltos Smart SUVs in India and can understand the underlying context of English that is spoken with an Indian accent. For example, if the driver says, “I feel hot”, the assistant alerts the car to automatically lower the temperature. The Houndify powered assistant can also handle complex phrases such as “Where’s the nearest coffee shop, and turn on the AC.” SoundHound Inc. is also partnering with other car makers including Honda, Daimler, and PSA Groupe.
In the future when cars become autonomous, there will be audio entertainment with interactive games like DriveTimeFM. There will be ways to listen to a podcast, and while you’re listening, pause it and ask for information about something you’ve just heard, predicts McMahon.
“I think everyone should have a voice system for their car from the perspective of safety,” says Mutchler, it would hopefully reduce distractions and automobile accidents.