Drivers of new Mercedes-Benz A-Class vehicles will soon be able to talk to their cars. And the cars will respond. Ask the car to turn on the heads-up display or for sports scores. Say you’re hungry and it will suggest restaurants. The new in-vehicle assistant utilizes local and cloud data to provide drivers plenty to talk about.
The service was built by a 13-year old startup run out of Santa Clara, CA called SoundHound. Originally, the company launched as a Shazam-like service but kept evolving into a robust conversational artificial intelligence service. Different versions of SoundHound’s service are available on a number of platforms including iOS, Android and in several vehicles made by Kia and Hyundai.
Mercedes’ version of SoundHound’s service is two parts. Some of the requests, mostly about the vehicle’s systems, are processed locally. If a driver asks about sports scores or stock prices or a gas station location, the service reaches out to a cloud service to retrieve the latest information. The service is location-aware, too, allowing the driver to ask about nearby restaurants without specifying a city to search within.
The voice assistant is part of Mercedes-Benz’s new MBUX user interface. The car company says it’s highly personalized and configurable and adapts to the user over time.
In May of 2018 Mercedes-Benz joined four other investors including Tencent and Hyundai Motors in a $100m million corporate round. The company has raised $215 million to date through six rounds of funding since 2005.
This voice service comes a week after BMW announced its custom-built in-vehicle voice assistant. As voice assistant gain household penetration, more automakers are looking to cash in on consumer’s acceptance of technology. The trick is finding a balance between utility and novelty. Car companies cannot simply turn to Amazon and build-in Alexa; Alexa is not meant for in-car users. Rather, car companies must use off-the-shelf systems like from SoundHound or Clinc or build their own service to best suit their users.