There is a lot of activity around Alexa and Google Assistant in cars at CES, but independent voice assistant Hound from SoundHound Inc. has also been very active. Hyundai announced in late December that SoundHound will provide the voice technology behind the in-car “Intelligent Personal Assistant” which will roll out to some models in 2019. Paul Choo, director of infotainment development group at Hyundai Motor Company commented:
Sophisticated voice recognition and AI integration are core to effectively providing drivers with the massive content and data that future connected vehicles have to offer
Hyundai is demonstrating the Hound integration at CES this week. Although the solution was unavailable for demo when I visited the Hyundai booth, the feature specification says:
“Drivers can…control features of the car, including air conditioning, sunroof, and door locks, with voice commands. The Houndify platform makes it possible to combine an array of driver conveniences, including making phone calls, sending hands-free text messages, searching for destinations, refining previous searches, playing music, checking weather, and managing schedules. The experience also supports ‘Car-to-Home’ service, enabling drivers to interact with their smart home devices from the car.”
This means you can use voice to control in-car features while driving, access both communication services and internet data, and interact with smart home devices. Hyundai also announced this week a partnership with Cisco to deploy Ethernet communications in the car. Ethernet, combined with 5G, another hot CES topic, or mobile connectivity will offer driver access to data outside the car.
Voice Assistant Traction in Automotive
The car seems like the perfect environment for hands free interactions enabled by voice assistants because your eyes and hands are occupied while driving. This is about both convenience and safety. Although the only official announcement relates to Hyundai, KoreaIT News indicates that the Hound voice assistant will also appear in Kia models in the future. I asked SoundHound VP & GM Katie McMahon earlier why the company was getting traction now in automotive.
We view Automotive as an IoT category in which Voice AI is mission critical. Speaking to your car to control, navigate, search, or engage with content, while your eyes are on the road is the new must-have. The car makers need to have world-class Voice AI technology and the ability to design their own branded experience.
As to why Hound was achieving success even with companies like Hyundai that have previously integrated Amazon Alexa into telematics, McMahon focused on the “highly customized and branded experience.” Amazon and Google exert nearly complete control over the voice assistant user experience and retain their branding throughout. SoundHound offers companies more control over the experience and ownership of the user interaction data.
Hound Beyond the Car
Hound also has presence in a number of other CES devices on display this week. These include the Kuri and iPal robots, an intelligent coffee machine from BUNN, a wearable from Onkyo, and a voice interactive mirror from Modiface. Voice assistants represent a broad market outside of Alexa and Google Assistant. SoundHound is showing that independent voice technology companies will play an increasingly important role over time.