AI Is the Glue That Will Bind Voice Assistants, Cars and Commerce

Automakers Monetize Car-Level Data

The connections already forged between consumers, their mobile devices, home speakers and voice assistants will forge the connections between conversational AI, cars and commerce conducted from behind the windshield.

At the end of last year, PYMNTS research noted a growing embrace of smart home technologies, with the spoken word a key component of those technologies. In the report “12 Months of the ConnectedEconomy™,” published in December, PYMNTS found half of U.S. consumers have integrated at least one smart technology, including voice assistants.

To get a sense of how firmly voice assistants have become part of everyday life, consider that 75 million consumers reported using voice assistants such as Alexa and Google Home to make online transactions in the home setting, among other things.

The jockeying among Big Tech — Google, Microsoft, Apple — indicates that many firms see promise in marrying natural language processing, payments, commands and commerce across all manner of brands.

Theoretically, at least, an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered voice assistant works across any number of hardware options, spanning phones and TVs, etc. The point of access, that voice driven front door, so to speak, would naturally occur as Big Tech integrates AI tech into search engines. In one example, Microsoft has been investing billions of dollars in OpenAI and has been bringing search, browsing and chat together. Google, meanwhile, has been embedding AI into its own offerings. Earlier last month, there were reports that Google has been on track to deliver conversational AI to search.

Increasingly, the blending of voice-driven commands and payments should find a broad range of use cases in the car. It is the car, after all, that demands real-time, hands-free use of apps, whether it be for navigation, paying at the pump or ordering food to nourish drivers during the daily commute.

Some Initial Use Cases

The initial use cases of AI in the driver’s seat might be via driver assistance and navigation programs that make the very act of traveling the roads safer. But as we’ve seen, the push to branch more fully into other areas is becoming more readily apparent.

In an example of original equipment manufacturer (OEM)/Big Tech partnerships, Mercedes-Benz said last month that it had entered a long-term strategic partnership with Google that has its roots in navigation and entertainment.

Mercedes-Benz will give customers access to Google’s Place Details function, which serves information about more than 200 million businesses globally, including business hours, photos, ratings and reviews.

The companies said they would bring the YouTube app into the Mercedes-Benz infotainment system and leverage Google Maps data to set up automatic speed adjustments before vehicles encounter intersections, roundabouts or curves. Google has also broadened its partnership with carmaker Renault, allowing the automaker to offer over-the-air software updates to its vehicles. But the voice functionality, for Mercedes, has been decidedly in house.

As far back as 2018, the company has been rolling out voice-in-the-car options via the “Hey, Mercedes” assistant feature. Now, the Mercedes pay+ function is being actively rolled out on select new vehicle models in Germany. The payments option offers drivers a one-click-esque way to purchase services and products, including software upgrades. In an interview with Karen Webster, Mercedes pay CEO Nico Kersten noted that in-vehicle commerce could be set in motion with that voice assistant.

In a separate interview, Ingo Money CEO Drew Edwards told Karen Webster that AI has a place in mobile commerce as it goes truly, well, mobile.

“Apple CarPlay and Google [Android Auto] have taken most functions away from the driver and turned them into voice commands,” he said. “There has got to be some element of intelligence built into that because there’s a dialogue that goes on” as consumers are alerted to, consider, and ultimately transact across a range of interactions and experiences.