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Connectivity Enables Smarter, Conversational Vehicles

Sam Abuelsamid
Jun 13, 2019

Smart Car

Since the early 2000s, automakers have increasingly relied on voice recognition technology as an alternative to proliferating buttons and switches to manage new features. Unfortunately, these systems had to rely on limited local computing and storage that limited the functionality and irritated customers. Fortunately, that’s changing thanks to in-vehicle connectivity, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence.

Over the past several years, in-home digital voice assistants with near natural language voice recognition have grown enormously in popularity. The growth in use of these virtual assistants is partly attributable to home smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home and the rapidly growing ecosystem of Internet of Things (IoT) devices they can control. These same assistants are coming into the vehicle, where they can do more and reduce frustration levels for drivers.

Barriers, Solutions, and Forecasts

The vehicle environment has always been a challenging one for voice recognition. Ambient noise is difficult to control and low power computing creates other obstacles. To maximize the probability of accurately recognizing commands, developers have used limited vocabularies, which require users to remember specific sequences of words. Despite this, systems frequently mischaracterized what was being said, leading to frequent customer complaints and reduced overall usage.

Modern voice assistants mainly run in data centers that provide vastly more storage and compute capability. These systems are able to more accurately recognize individual words, despite accents, and also understand the semantics behind strings of words. Increasingly, these systems are context aware with knowledge of the user’s location, prior usage history, and more, so they can provide more accurate and relevant answers.

Guidehouse Research’s Market Data: Connected Vehicles report estimates that by the early 2020s, nearly 100% of new vehicles in North America and Europe will have built-in cellular connectivity. Asia Pacific markets, particularly China will be only a few years behind in achieving ubiquitous on-the-road connectivity. Vendors such as Amazon, Google, Nuance, and IBM are vying to get automakers to build in support for their respective voice assistant platforms.

Automakers Lead the Way

Since launching the original Echo smart speaker in 2014, Amazon has moved aggressively to get other companies to integrate Alexa Voice Services (AVS). Many home devices now support AVS; Ford was among the first automakers to add support via the Alexa smartphone app connected through Smart Device Link. Other automakers are now embedding AVS directly into infotainment systems, including Audi on the e-Tron Quattro.

Google Assistant support was added into the Android Auto smartphone projection system in 2018. In 2020, Volvo will be among the first automakers to launch an infotainment system built on the full Android Automotive operating system, which includes the assistant as a core component of its control.

Mercedes-Benz debuted its MBUX infotainment system using Nuance’s voice assistant platform that can be activated by the command, “hey Mercedes,” in 2018. MBUX will be incorporated into all Mercedes-Benz products as they are updated over the next several years.

Cars Are Connected
More computing power in the car and increased connectivity support an array of functions. The local processing of the voice assistants serves as a backup when cloud connectivity is not available, which can be a regular occurrence in rural areas. This proliferation of advanced voice control is expected to help reduce driver frustration and distraction while also providing a path to a future when humans don’t have to drive at all. These technological innovations and vision are made possible by connectivity.