Market Spotlight on Automotive: IVAs Are Popular in New Cars, but Concerns, Limits Remain

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Let’s face it, IVAs aren’t perfect. They often fail to understand us, creating frustration that might lead to further distraction when you’re on the road.

That being said, “It’s a fact that speech input mitigates driver distraction,” Schalk says. “Speech interfaces need to be designed correctly to avoid driver frustration and driver workload. And of course, the speech technology needs to work reliably. Infotainment systems have become increasingly more complex, and speech can be used to greatly simplify the user interface.”

Take It to the Limit

We all know that speech recognition technology is changing quickly, but it still struggles with some of the usability issues we’ve been hearing about since its inception. For instance, Gilbert points to background noise as a potential pitfall, “but vehicle designs and speech recognition with advanced microphone technologies have reduced this issue.”

He adds, “Speech in the car doesn’t have major limitations, in my opinion, as long as it’s designed and tested to limit distraction.”

But research shows that users do still have some complaints. “If you pay attention to recent J.D. Power-user satisfaction scores for embedded speech in the car, you get the impression that simple speech commands are difficult to recognize,” says Schalk. “Speech in the car remains the most-complained-about feature in new cars. But the complaint rate has gone down significantly, and there is no doubt that connecting to cloud speech resources will bring more improvement. With cloud speech, drivers don’t have to use structured commands, which is something that drivers don’t take the time to learn. And all speech systems in the car will eventually include connectivity to cloud speech resources.”

Connectivity also continues to be a stumbling block for speech technologies in the car.

“Without connectivity, the speech experience will always be limited when compared to the connected speech experience,” says Schalk. “For CarPlay and Android Auto, there are no obvious usability issues to solve, and we continue to see improvement in the user interface. We have not reached conversational speech interfaces, but as soon as our mobile devices and smart speakers support truly conversational speech, so will our cars. Perhaps a few years away.”

But even those of us without speech-
activated services built-in can still take advantage of them, and Gilbert thinks those experiences might still be superior to what’s in your dashboard. “I think what Apple does with Siri is good because you can use it hands-free, eyes-free. To me, that’s the key,” he says.

Gilbert adds, “I would say Google Maps is an excellent example of speech for navigating, specifically.... It’s possible to use it hands-free, eyes-free, and effectively navigate just as well as looking at the screen. Google Maps gives you early warnings of turns. It speaks through a back channel when you are on the phone, so you can get directions even when you are talking to someone. This is my best example of effective speech in the vehicle.”

But Nuance’s Dragon Drive is also making headway in the automotive sector. It’s a more conversational interface that has the ability to process natural voice patterns and biometric capabilities that can recognize which user is speaking and respond accordingly. Dragon Drive also has a daily update feature that learns your road behaviors and preferences and then updates to meet your needs.

Schalk says, “The speech vendors that lead innovation when it comes to speech technology in the car include Google, Nuance, Amazon, and Apple—and perhaps in that order. Google has the best speech-to-text technology and has a wealth of audio data from the car via Android Auto. Google has recently developed Android Automotive OS, an operating system for the vehicle head unit, which includes infotainment and other vehicle components such as climate control. Rich with voice control, the newly announced operating system is already being showcased by Volvo and allows for in-vehicle control [and] all Android Auto capabilities, including home control like the Google Assistant supports.”

The Future of Speech in the Car

As consumer demand drives innovation and availability of in-car speech-activated systems, it seems there is plenty to look forward to—and plenty of opportunity—in this market.

“Over the next year or so, we will see more Alexa implementations in the car that will work similarly to Alexa home devices and are also integrated with the vehicle for controlling the climate, phone dialing, destination entry, and media management,” says Schalk. “Within the past year Mercedes and BMW began offering their own personal assistants (powered by Nuance), and we should expect more carmakers to follow suit. But we can expect something even more significant from Google that’s built into the car and goes beyond Android Auto—drivers won’t even have to have their phones in the car.”

Gilbert, on the other hand, alludes to the autonomous car revolution. As we inch closer to a future where cars drive themselves and talk to us, those of us who grew up with Knight Rider can’t help but imagine what possibilities might be next.

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