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Clinc, a four-year-old conversational AI startup, is teaming up with Ford to power voice recognition in the Detroit automaker’s cars. The two companies announced the collaboration today during the Detroit Auto Show, at a panel hosted by Inforum about machine learning and the future of in-vehicle technology.

According to Clinc CEO Dr. Jason Mars, the Ann Arbor company’s automotive platform, which was announced in September 2018, is enabling drivers and passengers to control vehicle systems using natural language. They can make verbal requests to turn up the air conditioning, adjust cruise control, and check fuel mileage, or ask if there’s enough gas for a trip to a specific address.

“What we found in our collaboration with Ford is that when you bring in a conversational experience that allows you to talk to your car naturally, it improves the lives of people driving those cars,” Mars said.

Clinc’s tech, like Apple’s Siri or the Google Assistant, leverages a combination of natural language processing (NLP) engines, machine learning, and deep neural networks to make sense of human speech. It’s able to extract context and intent by analyzing “dozens” of factors like speech patterns, the company says. And it allows for follow-up questions and improves over time by drawing from new experiences.


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Prior to the Ford partnership, Clinc mostly provided NLP solutions for large financial institutions like İşbank, the largest private bank in Turkey, and fintech startups such as Bankjoy, which provides mobile banking applications for credit unions and small banks. It’s also involved in research programs with Intel, IBM Corp, and the National Science Foundation, and last year unveiled a product for drive-thru restaurants.

In February 2017, Clinc raised $6.3 million in a series A round led by Drive Capital, bringing its total capital raised to $7.5 million.

Clinc isn’t the only one bringing voice recognition to cars, of course. It’s a promising new frontier: According to a recent Voicebot survey, 114 million US adults have tried voice assistants in the car, while 77 million now use them on a monthly basis.

Last year in September, SoundHound worked with Mercedes-Benz to launch its in-cabin MBUX assistant, and separately with Nvidia to bring conversational interfaces to the chipmaker’s Drive autonomous vehicle platform. BMW’s bespoke voice assistant also launched in September, alongside the automaker’s BMW Operating System 7.0 software. Amazon recently launched Alexa Auto SDK, a toolkit that lets developers adapt the retailer’s natural language processing to infotainment systems. And both Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay platforms support voice interactions.

Generally speaking, voice-enabled product usage is on the rise. ComScore estimates that 50 percent of searches will be conducted with voice by 2020, and OC&C Strategy Consultants forecasts that voice ecommerce sales could hit $40 billion in the U.S. alone in the next three years.

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