Kia Debuts New Smart Car Powered by SoundHound Voice Assistant
Kia Motors debuted an updated suite of voice and other tech software this week with the arrival of the India-exclusive Sonet. The Kia UVO Connect system extends the partnership between Kia and voice AI developer SoundHound, building the system on SoundHound’s Houndify platform.
Kia set UVO Connect as the central hub for all of the driver-accessible technology, including by voice and touch screen. According to the carmaker, drivers can play with 57 different features in the Sonet. Most of them fall under the heading of the standard features like safety, navigation, and entertainment. There are a few that are a little ahead of the curve, however, including a smartwatch app and remote control to start and stop the car. Once inside the car, the voice assistant can handle most requests using Hello Kia as a wake word. The climate, media, and navigation services can all be run through the voice assistant, and it will tell drivers recent cricket scores a unique element for Kia cars in India.
SoundHound’s AI supports the cloud-based voice features, extending the deal that put Houndify into the Kia Seltos last year. As with the Seltos, the voice assistant speaks only English, although it is trained to understand Indian-English accents. Using Houndify also gives the AI a better grasp of casual conversation. The voice assistant can understand that when someone says I feel hot, they are asking for the air conditioning to be turned on, for instance.
SoundHound’s expanding arrangement with Kia is part of the company’s ongoing expansion into the automotive this year. In January, Honda announced plans to use Houndify as the basis for its voice assistant, building on the AI’s presence in Hyundai and Mercedes vehicles. Cars are just one of SoundHound’s ventures, though, including a recent high-profile addition of Voice Scan to Snapchat that lets people add a filter with a vocal request. That’s on top of hotel rooms, streaming services like Pandora, and other outlets. Cars may not be central to SoundHound, but they are continuing to rise as central to the voice tech industry.
The business models vary enormously. Some manufacturers are committing to a single voice assistant as Groupe PSA is doing with Android Automotive across all of its car brands, while Amazon is both partnering with car companies and pushing the Echo Auto device for integrating Alexa into cars. SoundHound’s diverse verticals also help when faces with voice tech companies focused solely on automobiles like Cerence, a Nuance spin-off that has rapidly added a whole ecosystem of features and platforms for carmakers looking to add a voice assistant in some form to their products. Still, Kia’s decision to stick with SoundHound shows the competition is far from settled, even as drivers talking to their car becomes normal.