Cerence Scores International Voice Assistant Deal for Chinese Electric Carmaker NIO
Cerence is embedding its voice AI in the Norwegian version of Chinese electric car manufacturer NIO’s ES8 model. The international roll-out of the full-size SUV includes the company’s NOMI voice assistant, adapted by Cerence for its platform and speaking English and Norweigian.
Cerence’s white-label platform for automotive voice assistants is built into a wide range of vehicles from carmakers around the world, so incorporating its tech into the ES8 stands out mainly for how it fills a gap in NIO’s existing voice AI offerings. In China, NOMI naturally speaks Chinese, but the carmaker doesn’t have other language options available. The NOMI AI encountered by Norweigian drivers will speak in Norweigian or English depending on their preference. This partnership could be the first of a much bigger integration as NIO has plans to expand across Europe and potentially other regions where Cerence’s relatively extensive library of languages would be crucial.
“NIO is a pioneer and a game changer at the forefront of the future of electric vehicles, transforming the innovation landscape in today’s automotive industry in China and worldwide,” Cerence senior vice president Charles Kuai explained. “We’re proud to partner with NIO in developing a digital companion that supports and excites their drivers with an intuitive, intelligent, future-forward assistant experience.”
NIO’s decision to bring on Cerence is especially notable as they had hired former Amazon Lab126 senior voice user interface designer Lisa Falkson in 2016 as principal voice architect, which is where she worked when she appeared as a guest on the Voicebot Podcast. Falkson helped launch the Amazon Echo and has deep experience in voice tech, including for cars. According to her LinkedIn, Falkson left NIO after a little over a year in mid-2017. She then contracted with Google subsidiary Adecco before returning to Amazon in July of 2018 as lead voice user interface designer for Alexa Communications, which encompasses calling, messaging, announcement and the Drop In feature.
Beginning in Norway is logical for an electric vehicle maker as they are more popular there than anywhere else in the world. About three-quarters of all new cars in Norway are electric or hybrid vehicles. NIO pitches itself as a rival for Tesla, but arguably faces more competition from other Chinese firms, even outside of China. For instance, fellow electric vehicle maker XPeng has contracted Microsoft to use its Azure AI platform to create a new version of its XPilot voice assistant in all of its markets.
Cerence brings a lot of experience and features to the table, however, and has not slacked in widening its menu for car voice assistants. The pace accelerated over the last year starting with the launch of Cerence Drive 2.0 and the connected Cloud Services. These enhanced the accuracy and speed of connected voice assistants and made the AI better able to understand complex and multi-part commands while expanding the customization and update options for automakers. Cerence Look, which combines online databases and gaze-tracking cameras to share insight on what a driver is looking at, and the Tour Guide feature to provide insight on the area around the car followed in the months after. Cerence capped the year by releasing the proactive and multimodal Cerence Co-Pilot, which analyzes data from car sensors and human input to predict a driver’s desires, ideally skipping the need for a wake word in favor of simply getting a yes or no on suggestions made to the driver.
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