Mercedes-Benz turns to SoundHound for in-vehicle voice assistant

Drivers of new Mercedes-Benz A-Class vehicles will soon be able to talk to their cars. And the cars will respond. Ask the car to turn on the heads-up display or for sports scores. Say you’re hungry and it will suggest restaurants. The new in-vehicle assistant utilizes local and cloud data to provide drivers plenty to talk about.

The service was built by a 13-year old startup ran out of Santa Clara, CA called SoundHound . Originally, the company launched as a Shazam-like service but kept evolving into a robust conversational artificial intelligence service. Different versions of SoundHound’s service are available on a number of platforms including iOS, Android and in several vehicles made by Kia and Hyundai .

Mercedes’ version of SoundHound’s service is two parts. Some of the requests, mostly about the vehicle’s systems, are processed locally. If a driver asks about sports scores or stock prices or a gas station location, the service reaches out to a cloud service to retrieve the latest information. The service is location-aware, too, allowing the driver to ask about nearby restaurants without specifying a city to search within.

The voice assistant is part of Mercedes-Benz’s new MBUX user interface. The car company says its highly personalized and configurable and adapts to the user over time.

In May of 2018 Mercedes-Benz joined four other investors including Tencent and Hyundai Motors in a $100m corporate round. The company has raised $215m to date through six rounds of funding since 2005.

This voice service comes a week after BMW announced its custom-built in-vehicle voice assistant . As voice assistant gain household penetration, more automakers are looking to cash in on consumer’s acceptance of technology. The trick is finding a balance between utility and novelty. Car companies cannot simply turn to Amazon and build-in Alexa; Alexa is not meant for in-car users. Rather, car companies must use off-the-shelf systems like from SoundHound or Clinc or build their own service to best suit their users.