The car was one of the earliest large-scale user environments for voice assistants, alongside call centers. Still today, it represents one of the most common use scenarios, or “devices”, with late(r)comers smartphones and smart speakers on the rise.
In the last years, car manufacturers have been making huge strides in voice assistant adoption and improvement, but the first steps date back to almost 20 years ago.
How has In-Car Voice Assistants Use Evolved?
In 2004, Honda was one of the first in the automotive industry to in-car speech-recognition navigation to a car. Partnering with IBM, they developed a system that would allow drivers to command navigation, audio and climate controls via voice.
These are all commands we still use today, but in-car voice assistant experiences have certainly improved since then. Looking for information on the nearest open pharmacy, checking weather forecasts, making phone calls and ordering takeout are all activities that you can easily carry out from the cockpit of a car, without taking your eyes off the road.
Data on In-Car Voice Assistant Use
It’s not just the technical improvements in the use of voice assistants in a car environment that has changed throughout the years, as Voicebot.ai’s 2021 data reveals.
In the three countries that were surveyed, adoption has risen in the last year to 127 million consumers in the US, 27 million in Germany and almost 19 million in the UK. The data are even more astonishing when compared to the number of smart speaker owners: in-car voice assistant users far outweighed the latter in both the U.S. and Germany and the two U.K. figures came in as nearly equal.
Furthermore, in several countries, the number of drivers exceeds that of smart speaker users, signalling that there is still potential for growth of voice command adoption in the car setting. Still, Voicebot.ai points out that most people interact with voice assistants through smartphone devices.
How Carmakers Are Moving in 2022
The push on adoption of voice assistants in the car setting has prompted business on both the technology and automotive front to develop more fluid and all-encompassing solutions. Let’s look at some news that is changing the game in 2022.
For example, some great applications and upgrades for Alexa were announced last January at CES 2022, in Las Vegas. Stellantis is pushing on the gas pedal of its partnership with Amazon Alexa: already in 2024, we will see millions of cars come with custom Alexa assistants. On another note, the updated Fire TV will be available in a handful of Jeep, Ford and Lincoln vehicles, allowing touch or voice controls and access to most streaming content available.
Lamborghini, a brand that has been ahead of the curve on most fronts with regards to in-car voice command implementation, has announced in November 2021 that it will integrate what3words into its Huracán line. Incorporating the navigation software platform what3words will allow drivers to set their navigation through Alexa using a fail-proof three-word address.
Also Spotify has been making moves in the voice control direction. After announcing its Car Thing, a device that can be installed on any car to enable users to interact with the music catalogue via voice, Spotify has been working to encourage adoption. In December 2021, the Car View option has been removed from the app to gradually push users off touchscreen and towards handsfree experiences.
As you can see, different carmakers are using different strategies. Some are veering towards integrating Alexa or Google Assistant in their vehicles. This is the case we’ve seen before of the Stellantis Group recently announcing its partnership with the Amazon assistant. The Group also appears to be equally open to the competitor’s solution, as in 2021 various Fiat 500 models, equipped with Google Assistant voice interfaces, were launched.
Others prefer to develop their own custom voice assistant, to avoid outsourcing to big tech companies and maintaining brand centricity. An example for this is Mercedes-Benz’s custom branded voice assistant Hey Mercedes. The majority of the custom solutions currently available on the market are powered by Cerence or Houndify, two of the most popular providers of white label in-car voice assistants.
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