Let Your Car Speak First – Proactive Voice Updates

Have you ever felt the panic when you barely escape that thing that fell off someone’s pickup right in the middle of the highway? Or when a rain cloud forms out of the blue and quickly turns your fun road trip into one with near-zero visibility? Proactive safety updates get drivers to think, “my car is watching out for me.”

Have you ever felt the panic when you barely escape that thing that fell off someone’s pickup right in the middle of the highway? Or when a rain cloud forms out of the blue and quickly turns your fun road trip into one with near-zero visibility? As a seasoned commuter in Michigan, I have been there many times. So far, I have witnessed a mattress, three bikes, and a drawer in the middle of a lane. I survived white-out conditions that appeared nowhere on the radar before I started my commute. And mishaps of the kind got me thinking, “wouldn’t a heads-up be nice?”

According to the Nuance Design, Research, Innovation, and In-Vehicle Experience (DRIVE) Lab’s recent study, it would be.

Over 90% of the drivers we surveyed said they would like it if they received real-time voice updates about inclement weather, accidents, and obstacles on their route. Many said they would feel “prepared,” “safe,” “relieved,” and even “grateful” if their voice-enabled car made them aware of such bad surprises waiting ahead. As one participant put it nicely, proactive safety updates would be reassuring in a way that made him think, “my car is watching out for me.”



Hearing about those bikes in the middle of the lane or that lake-effect snow sure is critical, but there is even more we can learn from our system without having to ask it first. Some drivers we surveyed want proactive reminders for their upcoming appointments and the tasks on their to-do list. Others even want their car to let them know when their favorite song is on the radio!

Tell Me More About That…

Sometimes just the warning about the accident ahead isn’t enough. Drivers in our study want the system to take action, or better yet, initiate interaction to let the driver decide which action to take. “I would totally LOVE to receive an accident update,” said one participant, “but I want options on what to do with the information, not just the warning.”

I feel the same way. Sure, the idea of your car telling you that there is an accident ahead, or that you need to pick up your prescription is great, but isn’t it even better when it’s followed by an alternative route option, or an offer to add the pharmacy to your route on the way home?

In fact, we’ve previously discussed how drivers like the idea of a car that can adapt a conversation with the user to help reduce the likelihood of an accident. With proactive safety features, drivers get secondary benefits such as better situation awareness.

Short and Sweet Updates

As someone with a journalism background, I realized that creating phrases for proactive updates is much like writing for broadcast. Drivers we surveyed prefer tightly edited sentences with as much useful information as possible.

Keeping voice updates “short and simple” is one of the most popular driver demands. Participants found shorter messages more attention-grabbing and less distracting. On the other hand, eight out of 10 of the same participants chose to hear the longer weather update as it provided more details. It really is a good idea, then, to wear that news reporter hat to find a happy medium between brief messages and a lot of information!

Charming or Alarming?

Rather than alarming words like “Warning,” or “Caution,” drivers we surveyed want the voice assistant to open with a casual “Hey Jaime,” if anything. Even going right into the update without an opening line is fine by many, according to the study. The same goes for the entire voice update; drivers would like to keep the tone friendly, casual, and direct. “It should be like talking to a friend or buddy,” one participant said.

Of course, this depends on the context. A proactive fun fact about the landmark on your route calls for a different tone and wording than an alert about an obstacle that might threaten your safety. Several participants brought this up and I agree with them: Hearing that “Warning!” first, or even a brief alarm, would help keep me on my toes when there is a sudden slowdown in two miles. Hearing it just to find out my favorite song is on channel 71 might be annoying.

Receiving a much-needed heads-up about those bikes in the middle of the lane would be a big relief for commuters like me; hearing one that also finds a nice balance between friendly and serious, brief and detailed would be even better. As we move further into our research on proactive updates, we will work with drivers to determine what information is a “must” for them to hear from their cars. With proper content and style, proactive voice updates can help make the in-car experience more enjoyable, and the unexpected a little less scary.


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Duygu Kanver

About Duygu Kanver

Duygu Kanver recently joined the DRIVE Lab at Nuance as a UX Research Intern to do what she loves most: Design studies and collect data that translate into products users love. She is a mixed-methods researcher specialized one-on-one interviews, ethnography studies, surveys, and experiments. In the DRIVE Lab, she gets to apply these methods that help get key insights into users’ habits, needs, and preferences about voice technology. Duygu is a Ph.D. candidate, soon getting her degree in Information and Media at Michigan State University. During her time in academia, she researched a variety of topics such as media psychology, freedom of expression, and social norms, but eventually found her main interest: Human-centered research, especially that around user perception and behavior. She also taught Visual Journalism at MSU.