Mercedes Adds Houndify Integration to MBUX
Mercedes announced Friday that is has integrated SoundHound’s Houndify voice platform into its MBUX infotainment system. Houndify is SoundHound’s voice assistant platform that allows device and app makers to customize the solution and maintain control over the user experience and data. According to the announcement the, “voice-enabled AI…user experience now enables customized voice control with natural language understanding and will be available in Mercedes-Benz A-Class vehicles on the North American market.”
In February 2018, Mercedes announced the MBUX in-car voice assistant that utilized voice recognition technology from Nuance. That implementation is locally installed software used to control vehicle operations such as lighting and the heads up display. Because it is locally installed, this system can operate whether or not the car is in range of internet access.
Houndify Brings New Features to MBUX
The Houndify integration complements MBUX’s locally installed voice capabilities with access to information and services outside of the car. Mercedes says the SoundHound integration enables some more complex use cases including:
- Local Search intent/provider integration: “Hey Mercedes, I’m hungry, show kid friendly Italian restaurants in San Francisco with 4 or more stars that have free WIFI and free parking.”
- Sports: “Hey Mercedes, how did the Giants play?”
“Hey Mercedes, what’s the score of the last 49ers game?”
- Stock market news: “Hey Mercedes, compare the stock price of Apple to Facebook.”
- Conversions/Calculations: “Hey Mercedes, what are 10 dollars in Rupees?”
“Hey Mercedes, what is the square root of 3?”
- General questions: “Hey Mercedes, what is the size of Texas?”
“Hey Mercedes, what is the fat content of an avocado?”
- Time zones: “Hey Mercedes, what’s the time difference between San Francisco and Berlin?”
“Hey Mercedes, what time is it in Shanghai when it’s 2PM here?”
These are the types of queries that typically require internet access and each connects with SoundHound’s cloud services to respond to users. A spokesman for SoundHound confirmed Mercedes’ implementation of Houndify also includes some in-car voice control features such as “climate control, lighting, the vehicle owner’s manual.” However, you can think of the bigger contribution as bringing the outside world into the car through voice.
It’s Crowded in Here
Nuance and SoundHound are not alone in your Mercedes. The german automaker also has support for Siri through Apple CarPlay and Google Assistant through Android Auto. Only one of these two can be active at a time, but presumably you could have three voice assistants including SoundHound and Nuance all active within the car at the same time. But, that’s not all. Mercedes also has an Alexa skill. It is not active in the car, but can control some car features remotely. What this shows is that Mercedes plans to have multiple voice options to serve the whims of their customers.
SoundHound Gaining Momentum in Automotive
SoundHound is exhibiting some clear momentum in the automotive sector. Earlier this month, Groupe PSA, the maker of Peugot, Citröen and Opel auto brands, announced it would integrate Houndify as well. That follows announcements by Hyundai and Kia in late 2017. The Mercedes move was expected after Daimler participated in SoundHound’s $100 million funding round.
The advantage SoundHound has today in the auto market is its unique positioning. Houndify offers a generalized voice assistant with feature scope that rivals Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, but the customer has complete control over the data and can customize the experience. Neither of these are options for Alexa and Google Assistant which retain control of user data and offer little leeway in terms of customization. On the other end of the spectrum is Nuance. It comes from the world of embedded voice services. Nuance allows for data control and customization, but it’s designed to be a specialty solution. What Nuance doesn’t have is the reach of generalized voice assistants to fulfill a wide range of user intents.
SoundHound’s middle ground approach must appeal to automakers that want control and the features associated with fulfilling that wide range of intents. It is not that they are going to ignore Apple, Amazon or Google products that consumers want. The automakers are simply carving out a way to control many aspects of the in-car experience while still offering consumers choice and features. It’s a delicate balancing act that SoundHound is well positioned to exploit.