Nuance Introduces Nina, Its Own Virtual Assistant

Nuance Communications today launched Nina, a multimodal virtual assistant for mobile customer service apps that allows companies to add speech-based virtual assistant capabilities to their existing iOS and Android mobile apps.

Nina combines Nuance speech recognition, text-to-speech (TTS), voice biometrics, and natural language understanding (NLU) technology hosted in the cloud to deliver an interactive user experience that not only understands what is said, but also can identify who is saying it.

"We're really excited about it," says Robert Gary, president and general manager of mobile care solutions at Nuance. "This leverages a lot of the core technologies that Nuance has had in the marketplace for years, and we've added some new capabilities to capitalize on the mobile opportunity and rich dialoging capability."

Nina can authenticate by validating identities using unique voice prints; navigate by capturing intent into a single utterance and get users precisely where they need to go to get answers; transact by extracting content, context, and meaning from a request to get fast results in fewer steps; and educate users about the product's capabilities.

"Education is important," Gary says. "If there's one thing we've learned in the years of IVR is that we need to help people understand what they can do with the technology and what they can say—it's always a little bit of a challenge."

Nina is also the first solution that provides an open software development kit (SDK) to support the rapid integration of virtual assistant capabilities into existing mobile applications. In addition, Nina is the first to allow organizations to brand their own virtual assistant persona, including the visual appearance and implementation of optional custom TTS voices.

"A key point is that we've really focused to enable a very flexible design canvas," Gary says. "Enterprise customers can really innovate even within a product that their competitors may have because Nina enables a lot of unique design and implementation possibilities. Although we ship with capabilities that come out of the box, it's really open and allows them to expand upon how they want to use it to deliver a superb mobile experience."

Gary says that although Siri has driven awareness of the power of speech in a "mobile metaphor," in the application, they're very different.

"We're focused on a very vertical enterprise space, so that [user organizations] can enable customer service," he says. "It's also being delivered as an enablement tool, not a complete experience and complete solution. For example, a bank can own this experience and drive the kind of behavior [it] wants and differentiate directly to [its] consumers. I think that other than [Siri and Nina] both use speech, natural language, and dialog, the focus is on the experience front."

The Nina Virtual Assistant for customer service is comprised of:

  • Nina Virtual Assistant Persona, a reusable reference user interface: Nina offers a complete virtual assistant persona, which developers can leverage for their app, or use the available source code to quickly create a custom persona, including changing visual persona elements such as being awake, asleep, listening, processing, or answering a request. Customers can choose from a range of existing Nuance text-to-speech voices or develop a custom TTS voice.
  • Multimodal interface: Nina has been designed specifically for mobile app front ends to support inputs via speech, tap, and text, giving the user the flexibility to choose the interaction type that her or she prefers and the flexibility to move within a given transaction between multimodal talk, type, and tap.
  • Nina Virtual Assistant SDK: To enable the rapid integration of virtual assistant capabilities into mobile apps for Apple iOS and Android, the Nina Virtual Assistant SDK has three components. Nina Core APIs are binary APIs that provide access to the core cloud services, such as speech recognition, text to speech, and NLU. This provides the most control and customization possible to the mobile app developer. Nina Virtual Assistant APIs are source APIs that provide mobile app developers with access to customize the persona, as well as providing control of all modes of input, including speech recognition, text to speech, and touch dialogues. Nina Reference Designs are the source code of Nina Virtual Assistant apps and functions, including the Nina Banking Assistant, which delivers predesigned templates and tasks for store location, bill pay, account information, and more than 200 other banking related queries. Developers will be able to leverage the reference designs to rapidly develop their own virtual assistant capabilities for travel, insurance, retail, government, and more.
  • Nina Virtual Assistant Cloud: The power and intelligence of Nina, including Nuance's speech recognition, TTS, NLU, interactive dialog management and voice biometrics services, is delivered through Nuance's hosted platform, Nuance On Demand.

"From my perspective, one of the key things is that mobile is going to becoming increasingly important," Gary says. "It's a little passe to say that, but in customer service, we see people really moving towards their mobile use cases. The challenge that the enterprise has is, how do you replicate and provide the rich functionality that they've had fifteen years to mature on the Web more quickly in a mobile [environment] and do it in a way that's easy and not a real confounding kind of visual experience? We think that Nina gives that level of abstraction and that multimodal capability to make that easier."

The Nina Virtual Assistant SDK and cloud service is available now from Nuance in U.S., U.K. and Australian English, with additional languages to be made available later this year. Nuance provides professional services in support of Nina and virtual assistant implementations.

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