Cerence looks to bring AI and voice command for Indian automotive segment

Express Mobility spoke to Prateek Kathpal, CTO, Cerence to better understand the company’s product offerings and India game plans. Edited excerpts.

Controlling various functions inside the vehicle for long has been part of the mechanical switches and buttons, and with the changing times, users are still looking for more easier and personalised way to interact with their vehicles. Voice control and Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based approach is an upcoming trend in India.

Burlington, Massachusetts-headquartered, which is working in the area of improving in-car experience, recently opened its new office in Pune, India. Express Mobility spoke to Prateek Kathpal, CTO, Cerence to better understand the company’s product offerings and India game plans. Edited excerpts.

What are the products and solutions Cerence offers for the automotive space?

We provide three products for in-cabin experience in the automotive space. One of them is the voice assistant within the vehicle, which is basically similar to having an

 Amazon Alexa & Apple Siri for in-car. It also allows you to control your car with your voice also get your information about the car through voice and what we call AI-based voice assistant. Secondly, multi-seat intelligence which allows to selectively cancel the noise and people sitting at a different seat so you can have much more effective communication with the people on the other end of the microphone. If you are having any call in the vehicle, you can selectively mute the people on the backseat.

The multi-seat intelligence is a software-based platform, which requires multiple microphones in car. It is a microphone with AI upgrade, and it is already in production being used in cars like the Mercedes-Benz S today. That’s our second product line. We also have our platform which is for noise reduction as well as speed signal enhancement experience in the car. We can cancel out all the noise inside the vehicle for instance – wind noise, engine noise and outside crowd noise among others so a customer gets a richer in-cabin experience.

How many vehicles are using your technology?

At present, Cerence has over 450 million cars on road and about 62 million connected to our cloud server. Therefore, every second car on road has our solution in them. Chances are if you are in North America or Europe, pretty much every car has our technology. The cars in China or other parts of Asia are where we are beginning to catchup on market shares. One of the reasons, why we are in India is to expand our market share.

Are there any passenger vehicle cars in India, which use your solution?

We work with several companies globally. SAIC is our customer, and the MG Hector uses our solution. Almost all the automotive OEMs are our customers today. In last 2 years we have grown our India office from 40 people to 400 people. It is a big thing, especially given the fact that we have grown our presence despite the Covid-19 situation. We want to continue to build our momentum. Secondly, we are working very closely with local OEM auto motive manufacture over here who’s going for production soon.

What are the new areas of focus for you?

At Cerence, the consumer car market segment is one of the key areas where we are play. We have been investing in the in-car segments as perspective of growth in India as well. At the same time within that space, we have grown vertically and horizontally, as well we are going deeper into the car. By doing more sensor integration and adding more AI and machine learning into the car as it becomes more software driven. What’s more, we are also looking at the adjacent area or the two-wheeler segment for our platform. As the two-wheeler segment shifts from combustion engine to software driven electrification trend, the same platform gets applicable there and that’s what we are looking at that trend. The two-wheeler market in the biggest market in Asia, especially India, China, Japan and Vietnam regions are major areas for us in perspective to invest.

Are you looking only at the premium end of the two-wheeler segment or even the mass market?

The solution is not a niche product for the premium segment. The core platform depends on the car, it could be low- or high-end. The platform remains the same, it’s just that the addon at top differs. You get the same AI service, its depends on the in-vehicle hardware which might be different where the processor might be cheaper or have less speaker, less microphone, features might get turned off, capabilities might get disabled, and so forth. You might see a high-end vehicle having better functioning of capabilities work than lower-end. This is quite similar for the two-wheeler segment, it will depend on the capabilities of hardware of the two-wheeler.

What about competition in the space?

We have been in this market for over 20-years. In fact, German companies are actually using Cerence technology. They use our solution and embed as a part of their product offering. E.g Mercedes will choose the processor first and then take the product from us, and they choose the integrator like Harman or someone else to integrate it. We are a product company, it’s our technology which gets used as a part of theirs. When you talk about automotive manufactures like Mercedes-Benz, Ford, BMW, Toyota etc. they all are using our technology, they are all our customers. In the electric vehicle segment the likes of Tesla and Faraday Future are using our technology.

Will India also play a key role in product development for you?

We wanted to go beyond the sales in the country. The India centre will focus on R&D and delivery as for the local market. We also have setup for three car labs, where we can bring in the non-released car (read car that has not been yet launched in the market) into our secure lab where we can work define the placement of microphone and sensors among others.

We are also introducing some products for the Indian market, which we will announce soon. We are also focusing on the two-wheeler market in India and we will be investing there. Within the two-wheeler segment there is a prominent shift from head units with more software driven and also the Bluetooth helmet market. We look at it from multiple possibilities, our technology could be interactive from multiple different ways. Voice gesture can be used by technology, so the OEM can start with voice and touch as well.

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