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VoiceBox Technologies, a leader in the Contextual Natural Language Understanding (NLU) and a pioneer in the Connected Car, announced at the International CES 2015 that it would be extending its partnership with Elektrobit. The new agreement between the companies allows each to offer their combined solutions to deliver a multi-modal Human-Machine Interface or HMI development platform enlivened by VoiceBox to the automotive world.

Last year’s technology collaboration, in which VoiceBox enabled Elektrobit’s EB Guide with its patented Context Management and Conversational Voice technologies, demonstrated genuine innovation. Consumers can go beyond the traditional single-question, single-answer HMI approach because VoiceBox allows users to query multiple topics in any order that is natural for them, and to ask follow-up questions when needed. More recent advances include the incorporation of Deep Neural Networks (DNN) models that significantly improve large-vocabulary speech recognition.

VoiceBox provides ‘one-stop-shopping’ for companies looking to voice-enable products and solutions offering enhanced Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR), NLU, Text To Speech (TTS) technologies together with a full range of development, testing and data services. An acknowledged innovator in automotive voice applications, VoiceBox delivered the industry’s first embedded NLU interface in

2008, and pioneered the connected car in 2011. The company shares several CES Best in Show honors with its partners. VoiceBox ships with Toyota, Fiat, Dodge, Chrysler, Maserati, Renault, Mazda and Tom-Tom in 23 languages across 3 continents.

“The VoiceBox Advantage comes from a unique blend of sophisticated conversational interface design and patented Contextual Natural Language Understanding. We’re proud to offer our solutions alongside Elektrobit’s EB GUIDE, to bring a natural and personal voice experience to the automotive market,” said Mike Kennewick, CEO, VoiceBox.

VoiceBox is an acknowledged pioneer in automotive voice applications, having delivered the industry’s first embedded NLU interface in 2008. “We pioneered the Connected Car concept and helped deliver Toyota Entune which won a CES Best of Show award in 2011.  Entune was also ranked number one by AAA 2014 Research as most effective in minimizing driver distraction to enhance safety. VoiceBox applications run on smartphones, smartTVs and other home systems. Our cross device capabilities allow OEMs to extend their customer relationships beyond the car,” says a company statement.

The VoiceBox Conversational Voice Search Platform is an agnostic middleware solution that works with Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) Engines. VoiceBox delivers a contextual voice search capability that works in real-life, noisy situations for a seamless and intuitive experience. It provides access to content and services anytime, anywhere, by capturing the spoken request utilizing an intelligent hybrid system that can access information stored in the cloud or on a server to quickly and seamlessly respond. VoiceBox’s Connected Services capabilities enhance the experience with mobile and portable devices by allowing access to critical fresh data over a wide variety of networks. This capability combines with the core usability benefits to create a new world of mobile access to data.

VoiceBox’s portfolio of products can be integrated with navigation devices, smart phones, portable music players, and more. These products include connected navigation, entertainment and service capabilities such as easy access to ‘off-board’ information or services including navigation, media etc.

“Our voice experience has the potential to provide the interface for the internet of things (IoTs). Our applications run in cars, on smartphones, smart TVs and home systems. Our cross device capabilities allow OEMs to extend their customer relationships across environments,” says the company.

VoiceBox currently ships with Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Lexus, Mazda, Renault, Scion, Toyota, and is available in 23 languages. VoiceBox works closely with AT&T on the Drive Studio project and partners with Elektrobit, Pioneer, and TomTom to deliver world-class connected lifestyle experiences.  Headquartered in Bellevue, Wash., the company has offices in Los Angeles, Munich, Taipei, Tokyo, and Amsterdam. VoiceBox holds over 30 patents and has been recognized by IEEE for world-class innovation.

VoiceBox collaborates closely with a variety of teams at all levels in an organization to integrate voice capabilities for go-to-market experiences that enhance the product. It offers customizable reference platform and software development kits, trainings on voice apps, tools and technologies. Plus the company offers access to an expert team of PhD-scientists and engineers – VoiceBox has one of the largest speech expert teams in the world and Speech Science Centers in Munich and Taipei.

Automotive Industries spoke to Mike Kennewick, CEO, VoiceBox Technologies.

AI: What role has VoiceBox played in the Connected Car?

Our founding vision was one of a world of connected devices of which the car would play an important role.  As early as 2005, VoiceBox prototyped a working personal assistant in a Connected Car System for Toyota using GPRS phones.  I’m proud to say that VoiceBox continues to bring significant thought-leadership to the table, not only from the technology perspective but from a strategic product perspective.  We continue to work to look to accelerate increasing connected capabilities, particularly since consumers have proven acceptance in their adoption of mobile phone voice apps. 

AI: How will your continued partnership with Elektrobit help in making connected cars more user-friendly?

VoiceBox has provided Contextual Natural Language Understanding to the connected services capabilities of the EBGuide toolkit.  The VoiceBox enhanced interface is user friendly because it allows natural interactions to occur, as if talking to a person.  Users can speak naturally, without memorizing commands and the location of data systems.  Perhaps more importantly, it allows OEMs to leverage VoiceBox’s Natural Language Experience, featuring multi-topic Context Management and sophisticated List Management, when accessing and presenting connected content and services to users.

AI: Tell us a little about how your NLU solutions take into account different accents, languages etc.?

VoiceBox can build custom models to improve recognition of different accents, based on the product needs of our partners.  And beyond accents and actual language, our team of foreign language experts and cognitive linguists work to ‘regionalize’ a product from a ‘cultural’, not just foreign language perspective.  This has resulted, for example, in different dialog flows based on how a particular culture ‘thinks about’ a particular domain.

We’re also adopting sophisticated new technologies such as Deep Neural Networks to help with improving basic recognition.  More importantly, we hope to focus together on basic good interface design; we think that’s critical and our deep experience has taught us a lot.   VoiceBox has integrated research on consumer reactions to different content ‘types’ and have begun building that into our products. 

AI: How do you hope to compete with big names in the voice-interface software sector such as Google and Apple?

VoiceBox does a lot custom language models that can improve recognition beyond the single language models used by competitors.  We believe our technology IP, recently ranked as among the most impactful in the world, is superior, but we’re smart enough to know that it will take more than technology to compete.

From the product perspective, we provide better integration to in-car functions – VoiceBox provides one voice interface to control on-board functions like HVAC and off-board things like traffic, news, etc.  It’s not the best solution to ask someone to push a button to use Siri for news but then use a separate voice interface to turn on the air conditioner.

We also think our automotive DNA builds better applications that are easier and therefor safer.  It doesn’t surprise us that the recent AAA Distracted Driver ranked solutions such as Siri as alarmingly unsafe, versus the favorable ratings VoiceBox continuously receives.

And VoiceBox has significant business model advantages over the likes of Google and Apple.  We work with our partners to develop differentiated products versus expect them to all accept the same solution.  In the automotive market that’s particularly important because consumers increasingly see the car as a ‘technology center’.  It does the OEM no good to put in the same solution as their competitors! 

And perhaps most importantly, we do not look to take control of the OEMs’ customer experience and relationship control.   Companies like Google and Apple use automotive technology as a means to an end – and the end is the goals of their own business model, not those of the automotive OEMs!  We here this concern load and clear from OEMs.

Automotive Industries also spoke to Victor Melfi Jr., Chief Strategy Officer, SVP Marketing, VoiceBox Technologies.

AI: What kind of technologies did VoiceBox showcase at the International CES 2015?

We showcased the competitive advantage or our core technology on which all our products sit.  We could demonstrate superior and increasingly sophisticated recognition but more importantly the simpler, more conversational and safer solutions driven by our patented Context Management.

We demonstrated how this superior voice technology can be used as the unifying interface in the Internet of Things, of which the car is a central part.  So we not only showed how VoiceBox can be used at home to control lightening, temperate, etc. while watching TV, or from the car or cellphone before even getting home.  We demonstrated what we call the ‘continuous application experience’ that VoiceBox provides in an increasingly less device-centric world.  For example, if I asked my ‘personal assistant’ on my cellphone to let me know if my boss tries to contact me, I don’t have to go back to the phone for the answer – it ‘pops up’ on any device I may be on at any time, such as while watching TV later in the day.

We also gave sneak previews of how our Predictive Intelligence can make the ‘personal experience’ more proactive – less of a passive query system.  And we also showed how that same analytic engine can help our partners maintain control of their customers and participate in future after-market revenue streams, such as commerce or advertising.  We help our partners provide a better experience for their customers but also provide the partners with better economics, versus investing in acquiring customers and then have the likes of Google, Apple or Microsoft get all the ‘easy’ money.

AI: It was expected that VoiceBox would make a major announcement regarding a tie up with a mobile manufacturer – is that still on the cards?

While our automotive business continues to grow aggressively our solution is finding its way into the broader connected device market.  So yes, it makes sense that we will be announcing flagship customers in these emerging markets.

AI: How does your company’s voice-interface software compare to others in terms of adaptability and usability?

It compares favorably, consistently so.  Luckily that’s not just our opinion.  Third-party research consistently shows that consumers prefer the VoiceBox experience.  In fact, a recent Hebert Research study included powerful consumer comments like, “I’d actually make my car purchase decision based on this [VoiceBox] technology.”  SDB Research recently cited R-Link with VoiceBox as a strong leader.  And an OEM-sponsored third-party ‘bake off’ with seven competitive solutions, completed last month in fact, ranked VoiceBox the number one automotive voice solution.

It’s gratifying, but we think there’s so much more we can do with OEMs by leveraging our best-of-breed intelligent hybrid architecture to optimize cloud-processing and by focusing our expertise in the early stages of design. 

AI: What are some of the critical challenges VoiceBox faces in the further development of the Connected Car?

Many of the challenges I have been seeing are beginning to move in the right direction.  I was really excited at this year’s Telematics Japan at the industry focus and energy I was feeling.  I presented a case study on the very topic on Connected Car challenges and had great follow up conversations that confirmed an appreciation on the need to focus on so much of what VoiceBox has developed throughout its years.  Specifically, I think there’s increasing understanding that the best technology is best leveraged by taking a rigorous approach to the design phase; that’s what VoiceBox is all about.

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