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AI-powered voice assistants will become critical element in the highly connected car of the future. The market for in-car voice continues to expand, with both embedded and cloud-based technologies already growing amongst automakers.

In fact, according to IHS Markit, by the end of 2024, 82% of the world’s cars will include edge AI products, and 68% will include designed-in connected services – up from 69% and 49% in 2020.

Auto Futures has been talking to Stefan Ortmanns, EVP & GM Core Products at Cerence Inc. about the future of in-car assistants and how they’re becoming more human.

“As our cars become increasingly complicated and essentially transform into computers on wheels, simple and natural interaction via voice is paramount to unlock and leverage their myriad features and functionalities – and maximize our safety, productivity, and comfort while on the road. But perhaps more importantly, we see voice as just the beginning,” says Ortmanns.

“Our mission is to create a hyper-intelligent co-pilot for the car that integrates voice, vision, touch, gesture, etc. to enable effortless, natural interaction with the car. That’s where we see the future of in-car assistants,” he adds.

Cerence Drive is the company’s AI assistant platform that’s been developed in close partnership with OEMs around the world. It can personalise entertainment, execute complex commands. It can also find preferred parking, play users’ favourite songs, direct them to the gas stations with the best prices, and prioritise the voices it needs to hear while muting the ones it doesn’t.

“With a singular, unified AI stack that includes our industry-leading embedded and cloud technologies, Cerence Drive offers rapid functionality and uninterrupted connectivity and boasts the industry’s most natural, intuitive interactions, using state-of-the-art AI to become continuously more human,” explains Ortmanns.

AI is also helping Cerence Drive learn to become more human. Ortmanns says voice assistants are becoming more human in a number of ways.

“First, in their ability to understand – natural language understanding has been a game-changer for voice recognition, completely doing away with the need or pre-prescribed voice commands and enabling users to speak in their natural manner (e.g. saying, “I’m cold” instead of “Raise the temperature by five degrees.”).

“Second, in their ability to communicate back to users. Neural net-based text-to-speech like our Cerence Reader is giving voice assistants a new level of humanness. They can pause, vary their tones, and even breathe between sentences, just like humans.”

“Lastly, in their ability to integrate with other modalities like I previously mentioned. The future of voice assistants is really a “voice plus” experience – voice + gesture, voice + vision, etc., for example, looking at the passenger-side window and saying, “lower that window.” We’re making that interaction more natural and more in line with how you would speak to another human,” he adds.

Drive 1

Technology Designed to Minimize Distractions

As we all know, cars can be noisy places and drivers can be easily distracted. Ortmanns says Cerence’s in-car services are designed to make the whole driving experience safer.

“Voice is a critical element in minimizing distraction because it makes critical features and capabilities available without having to pull out your phone or look at the car’s touchscreen. Cerence Connect is a perfect example and a testament to voice overall – this is one of our newer products that makes all the most popular smartphone apps available by voice directly through the car’s head-unit.

“Imagine, for example, being able to order your coffee while in the car, without having to look down at your phone and risk your safety to tap through the ordering process. As these assistants gain capabilities and become even more usable, we’ll continue to see how they can minimize distraction during our daily journeys,” he adds.

Cerence In-Car Communication (ICC) uses an intercom system to improve the speech quality and intelligibility of in-car conversations between the driver and passengers. This service is suited for larger vehicles like minibuses and vans where there are more than two rows of seats,

“ICC picks up speech from the driver through specially placed microphones, processes and cleans it up, and plays it over the speakers in the rear of the car – all in an instant. This alleviates drivers and passengers shouting back and forth or the driver turning around to better hear passengers, enhancing safety for all and further minimizing distraction.”

Cerence Ride 4

“Smart city infrastructure, V2X communication, and more, will all change the way cars move about cities.”

In-car assistants aren’t just for cars. Earlier in 2021, the company introduced Cerence Ride, its two-wheeler mobility platform that brings its automotive experience to e-bikes, scooters, and other two-wheelers.

“Think of it as the same conversational AI-powered technologies available in today’s cars, but now available to integrate directly into a two-wheelers head-unit and/or via connected technology that leverages a rider’s smartphone. Key features include navigation, ride planning, vehicle tracking, communication, and more, all now available to two-wheeler riders without distraction, so they can keep their eyes on the road and hands on the handlebars.”

Finally, we asked Ortmanns to forecast the future of mobility.

“With increasing levels of vehicle connectivity and autonomy, driving will likely look very different in 2030. Smart city infrastructure, V2X communication, and more, will all change the way cars move about cities, and our in-car experience will change accordingly,” he says.

“Imagine, for example, riding in your autonomous car and you see a new restaurant on your way to work. You point to it and ask your car, “what’s that restaurant?” and in just a few short steps you have a reservation for next Saturday night and have sent a calendar invitation to your significant other, all while you browse the menu and have the local newspaper’s review sent to your inbox. This is how we see the future of the automotive co-pilot, which will transform connected mobility,” predicts Ortmanns.

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