Not all virtual assistants have been created equal. Some like Siri and Cortana are great at understanding human speech as well as sending texts and emails. Google Assistant is excellent at pulling up good search results and identifying songs. Alexa can set timers, integrate with home automation devices, and give news updates. Amy Ingram can schedule meetings like a pro. Fin can do a wide variety of tasks although it only integrates with Google calendar. The list goes on and will no doubt continue to expand. After all, the market for digital personal assistants is a lucrative one that is expected to reach more than $12 billion by 2021 with 1.8 billion active users.

Capitalizing on this popular trend by incorporating it into cars seems like a good idea for automakers. However, I see a few challenges.

  • Deciding on a single assistant. Having choice in virtual assistants is great but the drawback to the growing number of them is that no one assistant offers everything in one convenient package. You’ll need to work with quite a number of assistants to offer anything close to a full service.
  • No standards for a common interface. Standards have not yet been defined for virtual assistants. This means that the integration effort may be considerable or, worse yet, may make it impractical to offer access to many assistants within the car.
  • No common testing procedure. Without a standardized testing framework or procedure, a large test and validation burden is passed on to automakers for each new assistant. As the number of digital assistants proliferates, the car will be increasingly blamed for glitches falling through the cracks of a test plan.
  • Geographic localization. Users tend to favor virtual assistants developed by and marketed for their region. For example, Chinese users favor assistants developed by the BAT group (Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent) while North American users prefer Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.

Such challenges are at the heart of our multi-assistant solution called the Virtual Assistant Router. Designed to connect with multiple assistants from different providers, the system leverages each assistant’s specific strengths in one seamless transaction for the end user. Drivers can invoke the router without having to remember specific control words for each assistant. They can ask about the weather and have one assistant respond, inquire about a dinner reservation and have another respond, and so on. It’s like having a staff of personal assistants without the hassle of managing them.

Our Virtual Assistant Router is also white-labeled. We provide automakers with a set of core features that they can customize using a number of different options. One of those options is to incorporate our personalized speech-synthesis solution – see my previous blog for details – so that users can easily train their assistant to sound like a familiar voice (husband, child, close friend, etc).

Be sure to make a private appointment to see this and a whole host of other innovative technologies in our booth at TU-Automotive Detroit 2019.

Sorin M. Panainte Senior Speech Engineer, Advanced Development