Nuance Spinout Cerence Vies With Tech Giants in Voice-AI for Auto

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Google, and Apple each have software tailored for integration into the onboard computers of vehicles.

Cerence says it has devised a possible way for carmakers to maintain control of their digital interfaces and car-generated data while still incorporating the big-tech virtual assistants that drivers and car buyers want to have available.

A Cerence system built into the car can serve as a sort of switchboard to listen to the driver’s voice commands, and direct them to the virtual assistant best suited to the task. For example, an order to buy something online could be routed to Amazon’s Alexa, while a question about the car’s fuel level would be answered by the car’s onboard computer, in the voice of the car brand’s signature virtual assistant.

Cerence calls this switchboard software function “cognitive arbitration.’’ Dhawan says the company is working on getting it integrated into cars to make all the virtual assistants from various sources available to drivers.

Bottom line: Doing business in the conversational AI field, for vehicles, inevitably involves engaging in a tangle of relationships and accommodations with both partners and competitors. Nuance has previously collaborated with Amazon in its efforts to foster easier integration of various different speech-enabled applications into vehicle systems. And Cerence recently joined an industry group led by Amazon—the Voice Interoperability Initiative—which aims to ensure that customers can have a choice of many voice-enabled services in each device they use, with “wake words’’ for each service. More than 30 companies have signed on to the initiative, including Microsoft, Salesforce, Spotify, Baidu, Tencent, and Harman. Neither Google nor Apple is listed as a participant.

Meanwhile Amazon, whose market capitalization is $847 billion, has developed the Alexa Voice Service, which it says could allow developers of any device—including vehicles—to incorporate Alexa along with multiple other voice services. The Voice Interoperability Initiative is recruiting hardware providers to help device developers to do this.

Cerence’s Mack says the interoperability initiative validates the company’s belief in providing the flexibility that consumers want. He says he doesn’t see Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service as a Cerence rival.

“I think it’s a complement to Cerence,’’ Mack says. “I don’t consider it competitive.’’

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