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Future Of AI-powered Voice-Controlled Passenger and Commercial Vehicles The rapid transformations in information technology and AI have now brought us into a world where fantasy is becoming reality

By Tapan Barman

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Barely a couple of decades ago, one might have relegated the "Talking Car' to the realm of science fiction. Today, "talking cars' or AI-driven voice-controlled passenger vehicles as they actually are, have become a reality. One of the characteristics of the automobile industry is constant innovation and addition of new features. In the recent decades, fuel efficiency, environment-friendly operations and voice-commands have become the focus of car makers and buyers alike. The rapid transformations in information technology and AI have now brought us into a world where fantasy is becoming reality.

Voice-operated AI assistants for vehicles have been in existence since even before we really identified them. In their early days, they were represented by steering wheel embedded voice recognition infotainment systems such as Apple's CarPlay. A couple of years ago, Google entered the field with the Google Assistant integrated Android Auto Platform. The rapid advancement of voice AI is now evolving as a multi VPA platform. Going ahead, we are going to see the popular voice assistants such as Alexa, Google, Cortana and Siri become available on top of the platform and the Auto OEMs will also offer their own embedded voice engine which will offer the option of creating customized user experience for the vehicle owners.

Indian consumers have taken to such voice assistants in a big way and there is a huge potential in the domestic car market. As per a research conducted by Capgemini Research Institute, about 68 per cent Indian car users showed inclination to pay a premium or a monthly subscription fee to get a voice assistant installed or embedded in their vehicle. The corresponding global average is only 37 per cent and it amply demonstrates the penchant for technology among Indian consumers.

Voice-operated vehicles are the next frontier

Cars are essential to commute and they are steadily becoming more technologically advanced. For instance, voice assistants can play the desired music and undertake functions such as controlling cabin temperatures. Voice is steadily increasing its functionality and with the driver-less cars and cargo vehicles already on roads, the day is not far when we might no longer need to use our hands for anything other than controlling the vehicle's steering.

With Internet coverage expanding to almost all inhabited areas of the world, features like real-time location tracking and communication have been driving the growth of location-based voice services. As per Juniper research, in fact, 45 per cent of all Internet users are now using voice commands for online searches every month and the voice commerce industry's revenue is expected to touch $80 billion mark by 2023. Therefore, it is not surprising to see that 94 per cent of the companies foresee using voice AI in their interactions with the customers by then.

What makes these innovations more effective is that these voice assistants leverage the edge devices and have created an Internet of Vehicles which can function seamlessly in low-connectivity environments also courtesy of their short-range sensor based interconnectivity with other vehicles. Advanced technologies by homegrown players are further taking these assistants to the next level by empowering them with abilities to communicate in vernacular languages. Considering the great linguistic diversity in the country, the vernacular voice interfaces are bound to make this technology helpful to a majority of the car users.

Imagine a scenario where you are driving through a city for the first time and you simply command your voice assistant to guide the car to the nearest fuel station or hotel or even to find out whether your favorite beverage brand is available in that area or not! You might simply be able to place order for dinner and book a room in the best hotel in that town before you even get off the highway. The possibilities with the AI-driven voice assistants are as widespread as the imagination of their creators.

Major car makers and technology companies in India are focusing on this futuristic technology and some of them have already unveiled vehicles with such systems in the market. As per the 2020 Adobe Voice Survey, about 92% of the users have stated that voice AI assistants make them feel safer while driving the vehicle.

Things developers are focusing on

No matter how common they become, designing vehicle voice assistants requires sophisticated technology and innovative voice user interface. One can't just copy a smart speaker-based Alexa and install it in a vehicle. To begin with, while driving a car, a user is not really focusing on talking to the car voice assistant, and there is usually a lot of ambient noise on busy roads. The voice assistants need to talk slowly and clearly and should be intuitively capable of allowing the driver to take longer to respond or give the next command. Despite their love for technology, according to The Manifest, 95 per cent of voice assistant users admit to becoming frustrated with the technology and 63 per cent of the times it takes multiple efforts to get the desired command understood by the voice AI.

The focus should be on reducing the distractions of the driver, and not adding another potential one. Another challenge comes in the form of accent and this is where NLP offers uniform and high-quality experience for the users irrespective of their ethnicity.

Some of the advanced voice assistants focus on phonetics and intonations to understand the words and their context, instead of robotically grasping whatever they can. This enables the AI driven assistants to better understand the communication and the context of the words to provide highly precise responses. Courtesy of such innovations, advanced voice tech has arrived and how. And AI is definitely going to make these future voice assistants more engaging, helpful and safer for vehicle drivers.

Tapan Barman

Co-founder and CEO, Mihup

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