We have come a long way and are in a way back to the start, so concluded the talk of Mercedes-Benz during the Voice of the Car summit on seventh and eighth of April. From a driver hopelessly yelling at their horse trying to make it go into the right direction, we now can yell at our cars too to make it understand us better. All thanks to voice assistants from Mercedes-Benz themselves to Google, Amazon and third party providers.
'Don’t address the consumer needs, you have to anticipate consumer needs.'
Mercedes-Benz does not design their assistant to address the customer needs. They want to anticipate the consumers’ needs. Just like when people were asked way back, ‘Do you want a car?’ and people replied with ‘No, we want faster horses’. Consumers today do not know what they might need and want tomorrow. One can look at the Voicebot.io, voice in the car research and conclude very easily yes music is the thing most consumer want now. So we have to make sure that works. But the underlaying anticipation would be to include smart home into the car as well. How many times have you sat in your car on your way to work and wondered if you closed the door and turned off the lights. Or when you go back home and don’t know what exactly is in the fridge or turn the lights on and have your coffee prepared for you upon arrival. These use cases might be exactly what consumers need in the future. It would be something the Mercedes assistant might make possible.
'Honor user intent, don’t override the user.'
While reading you might have noticed, that it doesn’t say voice assistant. The reason for it is, that you have to honor the user’s intent and do not override it, as General Motors puts it. Not in every case a voice assistant is as desirable Ford agrees. Sometimes even when driving the user needs a visual input to see if their task has been completed. Or they prefer to touch the screen instead of talking to it all of the time. Besides, the activation of the assistant is sometimes more desirable via a push to activate. Due to the fact, that there might be passengers inside of the car or the music is playing loud and the push to activate mutes the music so the user can speak.
Voice activation although brings another interesting aspect to the front. The wake word to activate the assistant creates the expectation of the brand. Once you say the name, you expect a certain level of service. That is the reason the user can say ‘Hey Mercedes, …’ in order for the user to have a full on Mercedes experience in their car. Mercedes knows the features inside of the car and wants the user to be able to use them in natural ways of speaking. Just say ‘Hey Mercedes, I am cold’ and it will start warming up the car. They want to expand the natural way of speaking by gathering information about what environment the car is driving in, what the destination is, what the weather is like and the amount of people in the car. Although Ford takes it to another level. They want user to be able to choose their own wake word, to completely personalize the experience.
Not all car manufactures are making the assistants from scratch themselves. A third party that helps them achieve the perfect experience with personalized wake words included is Soundhound, part of Houndify. Their mission is the extend the voice experience to the car. The collaboration with Mercedes gives Mercedes the strength to be the assistant inside of the car. They manufacture the car and can built the assistant alongside of it. While you can access the Google Assistant as Amazon Alexa in the car as well for other non-car transport related tasks, where the Mercedes assistant cannot help with, such as checking if you closed the front door. The availability and amount of tasks these assistant can complete becomes of major importance. Since the car is not solely a transportation vehicle anymore. The connectivity and Ai make it way more. Consumer increasingly make purchase decisions of car brands based on the assistants inside of the car. One could argue that transportation is a feature of the car brand and not the main thing anymore.
The fight over who owns what is something I keep seeing recurring. In my own experience working for a major media tech company we had a similar issue. The Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa preferred to use TuneIn to distribute radio and not our own service. Car brands keep investing in having their own car assistants cooperating or competing with the Google Assistant and Amazon Car for the control inside of the car. This fight over who is allowed to answer which questions and give the result back accordingly is a more voice specific case. How far can the technological companies go into other domains and have full control over distribution and content? Will there be an end to it or do there need to be laws in place? Or do we just need to be happy to be able to extend our brands in less open technological platforms instead of the open web and app platform?
On the contrary, the technological parties showed some staggering figures. Reasons for them to extend more quickly towards the car. Not only do they expect the number of cars with voice assistants to grow tremendously over the coming couple of years. Amazon in specifically showed a researched where car owners are in particular the most satisfied with voice assistant inside of the car and most importantly the ones that are built into the cars infotainment scored above the voice assistant inside of the house. More the reason to opt-in to the method introduced by Mercedes to be available next to their assistant inside of the infotainment system. If not to be the only provider inside of the car.
While Google already mentioned that they have gathered data for over a billion kilometers ridden with the Google Assistant active inside of the car. This collected data might give them a head start in what drivers want during their commute. Rightfully so, they mentioned that the Google Assistant should be personal, proactive and contextual. Google can only make the assistant be those points with a lot of data. In the car especially proactive and contextual are intriguing. As a Microsoft research concluded, that voice user inside of the car would in the fast majority of the cases use two words each time to make a certain voice action. If the user would say ‘radio’ they would add ‘please’ just to get it to those two words. On the contrary if Google knows your commutes well they can preset the radio you want to listen to on your way to work and now what else you need. Based on the previous experiences in order to be proactive. By collecting that data Google Assistant can differentiate whether it’s your morning commute to work, bringing your kids to soccer practice or Friday date night. It will slowly but surely move into that assistant that indeed is more personal, proactive and contextual in and outside of the car.
The contextual element does not stop at the car door. Amazon Alexa took it one step further then your living room by making gas pumps voice controllable. You can pay by using your voice. However, connectivity between the smart home an
d the car becomes increasingly important. A commute to and from work, starts inside the home and carries over to the car. That transition should be designed in a more frictionless way. If you leave the house you might want to step into a car that’s nice and warm, continue to play the music/podcast you were listening too or start with the daily tasks and meetings you have that day. Similarly when you go home. More the reason for Amazon and Google to be presents in the car as they are in the house. To make an assistant that adapts to the context, whether that would be in the car or in the house.
In conclusion, the car is undoubtfully becoming more voice activated. Yet it still has to be seen who will be inside of the car. How long will car manufactures have their own voice assistants. Will there be an agreement like Cortona from Microsoft had with Amazon Alexa. Between the car manufactures and the technological multinationals. This has yet to be seen. However who ends up in the car has to be able to make a transition between the car to the home with is smart devices. In order to create on seamless experience.