“We need to think about autonomous vehicles as of a driving living room”

Autonomous driving is quickly becoming a reality. Nils Lenke, senior director of corporate research at Nuance Communications talks about the impact of autonomous driving on the role of automotive assistants and about new in-vehicle technologies that interact with the world outside the car.
Building trust in autonomous cars

Nils, the automotive industry is clearly pursuing a path towards autonomous driving. What is the role of voice-enabled smart assistants in that world?

Well, it is all about trust. Many people are hesitant to think about or even buy an autonomous car today. A talking car instills a feeling in people that the car is more like a human being. As drivers and cars will need to cooperate, information exchange via voice helps facilitate this relationship.


So, what do you see as the most important use case?

We need to think about autonomous vehicles as mobile living rooms where people will expect all the features they have at home, there. More and more people have smart speakers at home to talk to, give commands to, and get information from – and we’ll have those features in cars, too. In a recent study, we asked people “What will you do if your car is driving by itself?” and the top answer was “I will just sit there and look out the window.” So, it would be a great benefit if people were able to ask for information like “What is this building over there?” or “Is that restaurant open?” If we combine voice with gaze detection and other modalities, we will create a whole new experience in the car.


How will the interior of the car need to be redesigned and reimagined?

The interior will be a much smarter and flexible environment. In the future, people won’t be glued to the steering wheel any more. We will put microphones in the car, we’ll put cameras and other sensors, too, so we can understand what’s going on, where people are located, and who they are – based on voice biometrics. We will also use emotion detection to understand how they feel. Are they distracted? Are they tired? Are they happy? We can then adjust the behavior of the assistant and the entire car based on this information.

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How autonomous driving will change the role of the automotive assistant


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Richard Taylor

About Richard Taylor

Richard Taylor, a UK-born journalist who spent two decades at the BBC after graduating with Distinctions from Oxford and McGill Universities. After becoming the youngest producer in the BBC World newsroom, he devised the BBC's flagship technology brand, Click, a pioneering TV show broadcast around the world. Today he works with his team of creative professionals - producers, directors of photography, post-production supervisors and animators, to deliver on spec and on time. Richard is also Lead Innovation and Video Instructor at the Advanced Media Institute, part of the world-renowned University of California Berkeley.