The Auto Industry Innovates with Voice AI

by Karen Scates

Apr 16, 2020

7 Ways the Auto Industry is Continuing to Innovate with Voice AI

The Voice of the Car Summit—held a week ago—was both informative and insightful on all things voice AI and its in-car applications. It was a forum where leading manufacturers, engineers, designers, executives, and industry thought leaders in voice came together to talk about trends, use cases, and the future of voice tech in the automotive sector. Over two days of web presentations, experts shared their insights, advice and predictions for conversational AI and the modern connected car in 2020 and beyond.

Originally planned as an in-person event in San Jose, California, the conference was eventually held as a digital event. The result was a larger, global audience that brought a broader perspective on the state of voice AI in cars.

For those who didn’t attend and even those who did but didn’t catch every session, we’re summing up a few of the sessions and key takeaways from the conference.

#1 Innovation must put the customer first

When Robert Brucchardt, Senior Software Engineer and Mihai Antonescu, Product Manager both at Mercedes-Benz R&D North America shared the ways in which Mercedes-Benz is embracing voice in cars, they talked almost exclusively from the customer’s point of view, noting that the real goal of innovation is to create better experiences and provide more convenience for customers.

According to Robert, “It’s not enough to address customer needs for the future of voice assistants. You need to anticipate the customer’s needs.”

Customers will be looking for more than just a useful tool in the car, they’ll be looking for an experience,” added Mihai.

Mercedes-Benz is continuously looking for ways to make their customers feel more connected to everything both inside and outside the car. They are looking at the future the same way they look at innovation today, from the lens of their customers.

What can we do to get to the next generation of voice assistants? Passengers connect with each other, the car, and the surrounding area,” Mihai said.

#2 How we find each other and navigate the world is changing

One theme echoed from presenter to presenter: We must look at how people are using voice AI in-car now to determine how to improve the experience in the future. Since navigation always tops the list of use cases, What3Words has set out to improve the experience and eliminate the confusion between streets in close proximity with names that sound alike or are actually alike or common (such as Church Street in England). 

As an innovator in the voice navigation space, What3Words has created a naming convention that makes every destination identifiable by just three short, simple words.

As Tom Blaksley of the voice partnerships team at What3Words explains it, “We decided to build a new global addressing system. Specifically, one that’s been designed from the ground up with voice in mind. The reality of the way we talk about location now isn’t really fit for the use cases we have now and addresses today are not that precise. In fact, there are places that will never have an address, but you still want to be able to talk about.”

In response to the ambiguities of some locations, What3Words has made the imprecise precise. and according to Tom, the entire system was designed to improve voice user interfaces in cars.

We designed this with voice in mind. We have created it in 43 languages, which means every single square has a three word address in its own language,” Tom concluded.

#3 Content is still king

The adage, “Content is king,” may be old, but the sentiment has never been more relevant when it comes to creating exceptional user experiences inside the car. Besides navigation, music is one of the top 5 voice use cases in cars. Content providers looking to stay relevant are seeking partnerships with independent voice AI platforms and large manufacturers to include their offerings in hybrid and cloud-enabled voice assistants in cars and other consumer products.

During Voice of the Car Summit, John Vermeer the senior vice president of business development and partnerships at iHeartMedia, made it clear that iHeartMedia is aggressively entering the connected car space to bring its simulcast AM/FM broadcast stations and podcasts to the voice-first environment.

According to John, “We believe it’s important to ensure that the content we provide is ubiquitous across all voice assistant platforms. As voice assistants come into the car, we fully expect the habits formed in the home to fall over into the car as well.

He also reiterated something we at SoundHound Inc. have been saying, that voice-first doesn’t mean voice only. Consumers see voice as an augmentation, not a replacement.

Michele Laven, president of strategic partnerships and iHeartMedia, mentioned the opportunities for brands to learn more about their customers and use that information to create greater personalization.

Authenticated Digital listening will afford us opportunities to learn consumer behaviors and ultimately will help lead to more personalized listening,” Michele concluded.

#4 Innovate. Innovate. Innovate. But don’t forget the basics

Brands, engineers, designers, and thought leaders all know the promise and potential of a voice-first world. They understand the benefits of voice user interfaces and are already looking far down the road at how voice assistants will continue to change the ways in which we interact with products and services. Above all, it’s important to be acutely aware of who your customers are and what they expect. 

Laura Rosenbaum, voice interaction designer at General Motors talked about how easy it is to get carried away by the possibilities and forget to focus on making today’s customer experiences the best they can be.

Voice assistants are increasingly pervasive. The past 10 years have been amazing in terms of what voice technology is able to do, but sometimes it’s easy to forget the basics. At the end of the day, what is top of mind to the user is to get things done,” Laura said.

During her presentation, she reminded us that customers are loyal as long as brands continue to provide the products and services that make their lives easier and more convenient.

There’s a healthy friction between brand loyalty and efficiency,” according to Laura.

#5 Enhance brand loyalty with a customized voice assistant

The car is a domain that people are going to be spending a lot of time in. In fact, we already do spend a lot of time in our cars. According to research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Americans spend 70 billion hours behind the wheel a year, and that’s growing year over year. This fact is not lost on auto manufacturers who have been designing cars for increasing comfort and convenience for many years. 

Using the home living room as a model of what people do in living spaces, car manufacturers are adding the convenience of voice user interfaces to do everything from rolling down the windows to ordering a pizza or paying for gas before arriving at the pump. At the Voice of the Car Summit, voice-first expert and futurist Brian Roemmele had advice and a warning for car manufacturers:

There will be a point in time where consumers will understand a car brand more by their voice persona than their car design. Brand’s need their own voice that is a true reflection of the personality of that brand and even that specific model. Don’t give 100% of control of your in-car environment to Alexa and Google,” Brian cautioned.

#6 Design. Test. Collect data. Iterate. Repeat.

Knowing your users and what they expect from your products is a process. It can begin with market data and teaming up with your marketing teams to understand your audience personas. But it shouldn’t end there. Knowing who is using your product, how they are using it, where they are hitting roadblocks and frustrations, and then iterating to address those needs and desires is key to implementing a successful voice-first strategy.

Brandon Kaplan, CEO of voice agency Skilled Creative, understands the importance of listening to your voice assistant through the ears of your customers.

When we think about voice experiences in the car, it’s important to go through the process of thinking about the person who is on the other end of this production,” Brandon said.

He suggests that auto brands sit back and ask themselves a few key questions before embarking on the design and implementation of a voice assistant for their cars.

  • “What’s the motivation for someone to interact with your voice experience” 
  • “What are the unique touchpoints that are the voice of the car?”

He also knows that some of the best consumer research is available from the user data brands collect, making ownership of your own voice experience essential to providing better experiences. 

Some of the best creative expansions that we’ve seen have come after launch, by taking the analytics coming in and adjusting the creative approach based on them.

#7 Voice isn’t a 5-year project. It’s happening now!

Pushing the voice agenda forward now puts the customer’s needs and desires first by providing the best experiences for cars in all classes, not just premium vehicles. Acknowledging the importance of a hands-free driving experience for both convenience and safety is key for auto makers hoping to remain relevant, as consumers increasingly interact with products through voice in all aspects of their lives.

Our VP of product marketing, Mike Zagorsek, reminded audiences that when we talk about connected cars, we are really talking about an integrated experience for users and an opportunity for auto brands to differentiate themselves from the competition.

Automakers who adopt a branded voice-first experience will ultimately reap all the benefits of connectivity while standing out themselves. As voice assistants become more familiar and comfortable with complex queries, consumers will start to expect greater functionality. If your platform can’t handle it, you’re going to hit a wall,” Mike said.

Voice AI is redefining in-car experiences by making them safer, smarter, more natural and hands-free. At Houndify, we help our partners like Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai in making a significant leap forward in convenience and connectivity. Learn more about how Houndify is powering in-can voice assistants for the world’s leading auto manufacturers here.

Karen Scates is a storyteller with a passion for helping others through content. Argentine tango, good books and great wine round out Karen’s interests.

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