Okay, Laura! Play me some music, will you?
Digital Assistants are taking over our world! Well, not exactly in the way that Detective Del Spooner (’I, Robot’) feared, but they’re already a part of the lives of millions of people across the world. It was only a couple of weeks ago that over 30 companies (including Amazon, BMW, and Microsoft) decided to collaborate in order to make their digital assistants work in tandem on a user’s device. Google, on the other hand, has already signed a deal to help equip the infotainment systems in cars made by the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance with its digital assistant.
Now, Audi has been using Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa in its cars for some time now. The Czech based automotive giant Škoda, however, decided to adopt a different approach (on the back of a deal made by its parent company Volkswagen with Microsoft to connect its systems with the Azure Cloud platform) and develop its own digital assistant in-house. Laura, the latest online-based voice control system to hit the automotive markets, will feature in the top-end trims of Škoda’s Kamiq and Scala models, making them pioneers of sorts in their own segments. The trims of these cars already come equipped with a state-of-the-art Amundsen infotainment system, and Laura is all set to be the cherry on the cake.
Just saying the words ‘Okay, Laura’ activates the e-SIM based voice assistant, which can then perform a host of online and offline functions such as playing your favourite music, finding the route to the nearest restaurant of your choice (or even the nearest petrol pump if you’re low on fuel) and even direct you to the nearest ATM machine available. And if you’re still not impressed by the intelligence of Škoda’s new digital assistant, it can do all of this while conversing in six different languages- English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Czech, and in multiple dialects as well.
There also certain subtleties that the developers have paid attention to which makes conversing with Laura all the more comfortable and convenient, such as the lowering of the music volume (and not muting it completely) when you’re talking to the assistant. You can even be a bit rude (Laura certainly doesn’t seem to mind) and interrupt the assistant in the middle of a sentence, thereby increasing response times to a considerable extent. And since Laura understands natural speech perfectly, users don’t have to stick to a preordained list of commands either. Not only this, but Laura can place a call for you while you’re driving and even take dictation for a text message.
As for the future of this digital driving companion, Škoda has plans to develop Laura further, enabling the assistant to control certain functions of the vehicle and possibly even engage in a kind of ‘digital small talk’. Move over pesky shotgun passengers, Laura is here to make sure that you’ll always have pleasant company at hand while driving in a Škoda car.