How Kolkata-based Mihup Adds a Multilingual Flair to In-Car Voice Interactions
After Alexa and Google Echo made their way into homes, vehicles were the second best use case for AI-based voice assistance to proliferate. However, although they have been around for some time now, in-vehicle voice assistance solutions have one limitation – the predominance of a single language (American English), which reduces the reach of technology, especially in a multilingual country like India.
Non-American users find it 30% more difficult than Americans to understand Western-origin voice assistants in cars, according to a survey. Limited support for dictionaries and regional languages ââhas been largely absent from software provided by companies in the past.
Startup based in Calcuttaattempts to overcome this linguistic limitation with its vernacular AI-powered voice interface for vehicles. The startup has developed softwareâAutomatic AVAâFor automobiles that allows users to interact with an automotive system in multiple languages.
In a single offering, the system supports various Indian dialects including mix up the slangs as “Hinglish” (Hindi and English) and aims to introduce AVA support for “Tamilish” (Tamil and English) and “Benglish” (Bengali and English) soon, with a plan to cover all major Indian languages ââby 2022 .
The offline model (Voice AI on edge) of the product has been integrated into the infotainment system of two Tata Motors â Tata Altroz ââand Tata Nexon cars, by installing the solution in around 50,000 cars Tata and other utility vehicles and plans to introduce two-wheelers soon. The startup has seen 20% month-over-month growth and aims to penetrate its vernacular voice technology into the automotive sector in India.
Single-technology, multi-use case
Mihup is the result of Bartender Tapan and Chakraborty biplab. Incorporated in 2016, the Kolkata-based platform started with conversational AI solutions and voice assistance for primarily call centers. It recently entered the automotive sector, which now holds a 30 percent share of the overall business.
âThe call center is a huge market and bigger than the automobile. The revenue share of this segment will remain high in the future. The automotive segment is just one example of what can be done with voice technology in all segments, âsaid Tapan, co-founder and CEO.
Going forward, Mihup aims to give the platform to developers who will be able to create a voice experience of their choice through apps. Being horizontal By nature, the platform and voice technology are industry independent and can be deployed in categories such as consumer durables and wearable devices.
So while the platform can work for several applications, the startup focused on the automotive sector, where the demand and use case for voice assistance is high.
The automotive platform
Speaking of Mihup’s automatic AVA platform, she offers in line (using cloud or internet connectivity), offline (without Internet), and hybrid connectivity options among other features. The system responds according to the user’s voice command without the need for a manual switch. This is one of the software’s unique offerings, Tapan says.
In addition to this, the technology also allows the driver to access the car’s voice-activated hands-free functions like air conditioning, AM / FM, volume and the music system. It supports natural language to make phone calls and play music from USB port, support navigation controls and also vehicle information.
Mihup recently replaced the software offered by the American technology company Nuance, which was used by Tata Engines since 2014 for their intelligent assistant in vehicles. While the on-board voice assistance that Nuance provided was effective, it featured limited dictionary coverage and support for regional languages, an area where Mihup reinforces the first-come advantage.
âIt was an existing solution with a limited set of commands and it didn’t provide a natural experience for users. We’ve changed the whole game, brought natural language support, which helps users control everything in the car by speaking naturally. Dialect recognition and accuracy is our primary USP, âsays Tapan.
Mihup’s technology – the ability to understand multilingual support – was patented by the startup.
Amazon, Google and Apple are the biggest names in voice technology with their products Alexa Auto (Alexa Custom Assistant, Echo Auto), Android Auto and Carplay, respectively. The companies have integrated their voice technology into vehicles by collaborating with major automakers such as Toyota, BMW and Ford, Hyundai, Honda and BMW. We will probably see the system in some of the future models in India as well.
Technological leader IBM also launched its white label solution, Watson Assistant.
On the other hand, OEMs are also developing their own voice assistants by turning to natural language processing startups and tech companies. Some of the popular names in this segment are companies based in the United States Cerence, SoundHound and Nuance Communications, all of which have collaborated with global car manufacturers like Honda, Hyundai Motor Group, Kia Motors and Daimler, Toyota, etc.
âThe vernacular as a medium is a global problem and is not limited to India. But the way we developed the solution for the Indian context is unique and gives us an edge over other companies, âsays Tapan.
It is possible that several virtual agents coexist with a single voice engine resident at the helm. Each OEM wants to create their own consumer experience and protect their brand identity and privacy, so they can choose to integrate any third-party voice engine such as Google Assistant or Siri at the top of the platform.
âIt will be a multi-virtual personal assistant (VPA) approach. Users will be able to choose one of the virtual agents like Alexa or Siri, but OEMs will have a resident voice engine (like Mihup), which will arbitrate in the system and have control, âsays Tapan.
Until now, we have used voice commands for features like playing music, calling or navigating, while traveling. However, integrated voice AI will offer a much greater diversity of features and benefits for users, automakers, and businesses across the ecosystem. Vehicles will soon become new points of contact with customers for a plethora of businesses, says Tapan.
âOver the next 24 months, our system will support several things that will be way beyond what we currently offer,â he adds.
Firstly, users will be able to synchronize their home devices like Alexa with the car system and thus control everything from the car itself.
Second, the development of vehicle trade where passengers can book or shop with on-board voice assistance and control. For example, the system will notify passengers of certain points of interest while traveling, such as discounts on nearby shopping, events, fun cafes, historic places, etc., as they pass through these streets. . In-car ads and content consumption will benefit carriers, cloud service providers, OTTs, and e-commerce businesses. The integration will be based on open source APIs.
The third feature is âspeaker verificationâ, which will help authenticate the identity of the driver or co-passenger (virtual biometrics). This will be beneficial in taxis and public vehicles.
Financing and market
From automakers to tech giants, just about everyone is gearing up for the voice-activated ecosystem, and according to International Data Corporation (IDC) estimate, 76 million connected cars will be shipped worldwide by 2023.
âIt’s a $ 300 billion global market for automotive solutions. The virtual agent in the car goes beyond normal checks and unlocks areas like vehicle trading. A whole new ecosystem is created inside the car, âexplains the founder.
Supported by Accel Partners and Spring capital of ideas, the startup raised a total of $ 10 million in funding over three rounds. Their last funding was raised in December 2020 with a Series A $ 1.5 million round, with the participation of Rajesh jain, founder of Netcore, and Jayant Kadambi, founder and CEO of YuMe Networks.
Mihup was recently selected by MG Engines as part of the MG Developer Program & Grant 2.0, where the OEM major will explore synergies in voice technology.
âThey (MG Motors) were delighted to see a solution like ours develop in India. We are in discussions to work with two or three major OEMs in India and overseas and target sales of $ 5 million over the next 12 months, âhe said.
The startup has integrated English and Portuguese in the US and UK to target OEMs in several markets like North America, United Kingdom and Brazil. First, he will deploy the solution in commercial trucks by the end of 2021 and looking at two wheels also.
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