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Exploring Data: 77 Million Adults Regularly Use In-Car Voice Assistants

Updated: Mar 3

While voice technology is sprawling across seemingly every industry including retail, alcohol, and travel, there is one industry that is uniquely suited for voice-enabled solutions. The automotive industry has gone full speed ahead with in-car speech recognition systems which have almost become a standard feature in many new vehicles.

A recent report revealed that out of 114 million adults in the US who have tried in-car voice assistants, 77 million have made it a regular habit. This 67.5 conversion rate shows how powerful voice technology can be for drivers.

The automotive industry is an above average use case for voice tech because people depend on their devices to stay connected to an array of things like getting directions, making phone calls, playing music and sending emails. Since touch screens require hands off the wheel and eyes off the road, innovation in this area was desperately needed to remove this persistent safety concern.

Although drivers may intuitively know that using phones while driving is dangerous and even illegal in many places, the reality is they still depend heavily on their devices and need a way to access their information safely without having to change deep rooted behavior patterns. That’s where hands free voice technology comes in.

At its core, voice technology allows users to easily access large amounts of information at any time without using their eyes or hands. The shift to voice in-cars would offer a much needed technology upgrade. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported in 2016 that 3,450 people were killed because of distracted driving - a number that is unfortunately believed to be underreported.

Voice technology helps tackle this issue and is an ideal solution to promote safer driver behavior. Car manufacturers are taking advantage of the convenience and safety benefits of voice technology. In fact, according to research, the number of cars equipped with voice tech rose from 37 percent in 2012 to 55 percent by 2019.

Seamlessly incorporating voice technology in cars is a “lifesaver” in more ways than one. Hands free voice assistants allow for in-car productivity where drivers can access information efficiently in a convenient way while eliminating the temptation to take their eyes off the road.

Apart from helping drivers find a nearby gas station or restaurant, voice also allows drivers to have immediate access to their car functions and control features such as closing windows and changing air conditioning. Since the average person can speak 150 words per minute, but only type 40 words per minute, voice technology is a game changer for drivers who need to quick access to direction updates or traffic reports.

This shift has companies like Amazon and Google competing to become a leader in this space as more and more voice-activation is used in vehicles. Amazon has proven there is growing demand for voice in cars as Echo Auto (a system that connects a user’s Alexa using their phone) has pre-sold a million devices and is still on an invite only basis. Drivers who are connected to Alexa devices can download automaker apps and give voice commands in cars made by automakers like Ford, Toyota, and BMW. Users can ask about things like how much gas is in the car or what their tire pressure is. It can also help users start their car remotely or lock the doors of the car.

Never one to be left behind, Google is also working on developing voice technology in cars. Google Assistant allows users to access its voice command functions if they are equipped with Android Auto. This works with several automakers like Jeep, Kia, and Audi. Similar to Amazon’s capabilities, Google’s voice technology allows users to instruct their cars to find gas stations in their area or help navigate home.

Since this tech has the ability to change driver behavior on such a massive scale, voice AI has changed the automotive industry, which is constantly trying to stay competitive and meet people’s demands for a better driving experience. These demands are opening new opportunities in the market and the voice market is projected race past $127.58 billion around the world by 2024.

Brands everywhere can tap into this growth and nudge users to act after hearing their advertisement. For example, a driver might hear an advertisement for a newly released movie and decide to book movie theater tickets after hearing the ad without ever having to look at a screen.

Image Source: Recode

Drivers can also use voice for things going on outside the car. According to data, 71 percent of people often look at the messages on roadside billboards. Brands can use this opportunity to create advertisements which drivers can act on while they’re looking at billboards. For instance, a mom driving by a Gatorade advertisement might trigger her to remember to add it to her shopping list for her family. With millions of people commuting to work or school by car, voice can now make this dead time more useful.

Besides big name consumer brands, automakers are taking note as well and have been tinkering with their own brand-specific systems. For example, Ford’s Sync and GM’s OnStar have proprietary systems which essentially work in voice control. Others like Honda and Hyundai are partnering with independent voice AI platforms such as Houndify. This move allows them to keep control over their data and UX while expediting their voice tech development.

Of course, there are always drawbacks with new widespread technology like this. Voice tech isn't perfect in every car yet and cars take longer to manufacture than smartphones so the system can’t be perfected overnight. Still, the auto industry is working to meet these challenges and are on track to making voice tech a more seamless process that can be consistently upgraded.

Almost 40 years ago a show called Knight Rider was based on a character who owned a futuristic car that could have intelligent conversations with its driver. Voice technology in cars has come a long way and is no longer a far fetched idea made possible only with Hollywood magic.

While autonomous vehicles are still on the horizon, voice technology will be influencing car development in the meantime and redefining in-car experiences in the meantime making them safer and more convenient. As voice technology spreads becomes more accessible to everyone, the days of keeping one eye on the road and another on a touch screen will fade as a distant memory.



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