Shalom Life | August 21, 2014

Israeli Tech Introduces Intelligent Voice Recognition for Cars

Israeli-California startup, Robin Labs, gives drivers up-to-date directions, traffic info, and more

By: Hugh Holt

Published: July 3rd, 2014 in Business » Israel

Israeli Tech Introduces Intelligent Voice Recognition for Cars

It appears that the Israeli-California start-up, Robin Labs, has stepped into the movies with its newly designed, intelligent voice recognition and communication system for vehicles and Android devices.

The Robin app is designed to give drivers up-to-date directions, traffic information, parking locations, gas prices, and more... It can even tell jokes.

Company co-founder and CEO, Ilya Eckstein, says Robin’s technology is very much like the talking cars of science-fiction. After all, who could forget the wise-cracking Kitt from Knight Rider?

In an interview with The Times of Israel, Eckstein stated: "We have the location technology, the fast database searches, and the wisdom of crowds to support services like Waze, Yelp, and others that bring information to users." He went on to say that drivers need to "able to remain fully connected and empowered behind the wheel. To not miss out on a single important bit of life, even when you are not staring at the screen. And that is exactly what Robin is meant to help us with.”

In January, Robin Labs and Pioneer Electronics, a well known car entertainment systems manufacturer, introduced a mirror that will act as a voice-command navigation screen, messaging center, and entertainment interface. However, before placing it on the market, the companies are working hard on perfecting the technology.

Getting Robin to recognize voice commands may prove to be difficult. How does a computer understand the nuance specific instructions? Would it be able to differentiate between commands that sound similar? Using Apple's virtual assistant, Siri, as an example, Eckstein says that sometimes these advance technologies can get lost in translation: “If you tell Siri ‘call me an ambulance,’ then that is exactly what Siri will do — address you with the term ‘ambulance.’ That’s not natural language communication, not the way we at Robin Labs do it, at least.”

Natural language understanding (NLU) technology for artificial intelligence applications are not necessarily new, but Eckstein believes they're lacking one crucial component, and that's the context. Having the context of a command would enable applications like Robin and Siri to process which of their possible responses is the correct one. Eckstein thinks once that hurtle has been cleared, Robin Labs will be able to "build many apps that intelligently use conversation, with inputs by users and responses by the machine.” And it seems as though that day is near.

By searching through the user's data sources, like their music library or calendar, the Robin application will be able to better assess how it should respond to specific commands. "People talk and interact, and we gather that information and apply it,” Eckstein told the Times of Israel. “The result is a much more accurate conversation exchange.”

The Robin app is available free for Android devices, but is currently unavailable on iPhone. Its features include navigation, traffic and weather updates, gas prices and more. However, similar to Apple's Siri, in some geographic areas Robin's features will not work.

Eckstein also cast doubt on the idea that these new technologies will be standard issue in new vehicles any time soon. Therefore, the app will most likely be one of the many add-on devices for cars.

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