Ford, BMW, Toyota, and SEAT have all announced Amazon Alexa integration for in-car voice interactive features. Google announced at CES that Google Assistant is coming to all car models that support Android Auto. We clearly see automakers lining up to integrate with the two voice assistants that have biggest momentum today with consumers. Then we have Mercedes which is launching the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX). Just say, “Hey Mercedes…” to activate the assistant while driving. That means the assistant will have an always listening mode unlike many in-car voice controls that require a button press to activate.
If MBUX features sound similar to the Dragon Drive services that Nuance demonstrated at CES, that is because they are. Reuters reports that Nuance provides the Natural Language Processing (NLP) behind MBUX. From the article:
“[MBUX] uses artificial intelligence to make sense of commands and even anticipate them by learning the preferences and habits of up to eight different users. Spoken instructions can command everything from navigation to infotainment.
“Other auto brands have taken a more affordable approach, often using ‘mirroring’, which grants access to smartphone apps via a touch-screen interface. Some also route vocal commands straight to Siri, Alexa or Google…Unlike its cloud-based rivals, available only when online, the Mercedes assistant uses embedded software from Nuance Communications, a Massachussets-based voice recognition specialist, to continue functioning when data connections fail.”
Offline Voice Assistant Use, No Cloud Access Required
The Nuance MBUX solution does not require cloud access to operate. It will access cloud services for some features, but is designed to work on the edge without connectivity. Voicebot reported during CES that Amazon also intends to provide offline capabilities for Alexa, but it is not clear when they will be available. This is obviously a critical feature for any in-car voice assistant.
Google Assistant and Siri Too
MBUX is about more than voice interaction. There are two displays that can be controlled by touch or voice. Yes, it’s another surface that voice app designers may need to soon consider. However, it is not clear that MBUX will enable third-party developers to add to the experience. Mercedes already has Android Auto and Apple Car Play access so third-party voice apps are more likely to be supported through Google Assistant and Siri. MBUX will be available in Mercedes new A-Class models in Europe this spring and in the U.S. later in 2018. CarAdvice also reports that MBUX will soon be added to other Mercedes models.
“According to Ola Kaellenius, head of research and car development at Mercedes-Benz, the new infotainment system will ‘quickly proliferate’ through the company’s range, and ‘within a couple of years’ it will be available in every model. Georges Massing, head of user interaction, later confirmed the MBUX system’s hardware and processors can be installed into existing models, and doesn’t require a generational change.”