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Voice interfaces and the evolution of the connected car

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/polkadot_photo)

At a time of advancement in artificial intelligence (AI) and greater exposure of voice assistants, we see these technologies increasingly changing the way we drive and interact with our vehicles. No more so than with speech, which will be one of the biggest drivers of innovation in cars in the years ahead.

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Imagine, you get into a vehicle and it starts a discussion about your destination and your route preferences. It can update you on expected delays in your journey, alternative routes, and even weather conditions. It can plan and optimise instructions for directions; constantly fed with real-time information, gathered from hundreds of dispersed data points. And when you reach your destination, you haven't even looked at a device or on-board screen.

This is the ultimate objective of the integrated voice assistant. To have navigation and infotainment systems on board the vehicle all controlled through speech. In other words, creating situations where you are able to have an enjoyable discussion with an embedded artificial intelligence system, and not just give or receive one-way commands.

The voice is also more than a nice to have. It is a means with which to build consumer trust in autonomous vehicles more broadly; a technology that seems inevitable and yet constantly at loggerheads with public opinion - stories of crashes and data hacks. More natural interactions involving voice represent an initial step in normalising the car of the future, in which we are not in control and have to place faith in a connected, digital world.

A new generation of voice commands

AI and voice control are no longer science fiction, and very much part of our accepted reality. Even if on-board voice interaction and control are still in their infancy, voice will soon prove to be of paramount importance within vehicles.

At a time when the smartphone market is stagnating - according to recent reports, even the widespread availability of 5G will not save UK sales - the voice, with its contribution to more of a mixed reality environment, is quickly becoming one of the most promising next generation platforms. Voice-activated technologies in the home have become increasingly popular in recent years, with entertainment and energy leading the way to build more intuitive and efficient spaces. In comparison, on-board voice control within vehicles is still very much limited, largely focused on sending commands to a vehicle via a connected device.

Changing the way we interact

New technologies based on artificial intelligence are fundamentally changing interactions with cars. Soon, in connected cars, and then further down the line fully autonomous ones, the voice will be able to inform you about everything that happens in the vehicle, in the immediate environment surrounding it, and on the route it is travelling, all in real time.

Suppose, for example, your on-board navigation system gives the following instruction: "In 200 meters, turn right". Soon, you will be able to answer: "Where exactly on the right?" And your vehicle can respond: "Follow the red vehicle ahead”. It is these informed interactions that will make the real difference in the near future and begin to impact how we spend time in cars.

Using the data transmitted by all vehicle sensors is the key to realising this type of two-way conversation for navigation, as opposed to a traditional experience, in which you simply receive instructions from your system.

The voice interface

Voice itself will also become the interface for the vehicle of the future. This is the next logical step to improving the experience within connected cars. The spoken word will allow you to control the main dashboard, as well as the various elements of infotainment and navigation, all with ease and intuition. As in-car voice assistants become increasingly more prevalent, their capabilities will also reach beyond navigation and infotainment. We can expect vehicle voice assistants to integrate home-based voice technology allowing consumers the chance to set a comfortable room temperature ahead of getting home. Consumers will also be able to carry out daily administrative tasks through their in-car voice assistant. For instance, booking car service appointments, ordering food deliveries and booking taxi services, all with seamless ease.  

As far as road safety is concerned, the voice will also alert drivers looking at their smartphone or on-board screen for directions. We will soon all instinctively choose to converse with our navigation system to get the advice, information or entertainment we need, instead of scrolling or pressing a button. And, in time, the screens that keep our eyes away and, therefore, attention from the road, will soon seem redundant entirely.

After all, the goal of voice interfaces is to give the driver every reason not to look at their navigation application on their smartphone, in order to guarantee their safety and provide a serene driving experience.

Voice powered driving

For many of us, the prospect of navigating only through voice commands seems an unrealistic prospect at this current moment. But the technology that will make it all possible is just around the corner. With AI increasingly connected to location-based technology, and more and more data readily available through the cloud, it is not unrealistic to predict that cars will very soon make this next step. Research suggests that by 2022, about 73 per cent of drivers will use an in-car voice assistant. As the technology develops, it has become evident that consumer demand remains the number one driving force behind in-car voice assistance adoption.

When you consider what is already possible through cars becoming connected, from predictive alerts to live road conditions, then it’s an even more exciting prospect when you add cities and roads to the mix. Relaying all this information via voice to the driver of a connected car or passenger in an autonomous vehicle will only add to the experience of natural evolution. In the long run, voice powered driving will result in safer, more efficient and ultimately more enjoyable journeys.

Cyril Leman, Automotive Product Marketing Lead, HERE Technologies