“Hi Proton” – Preparing In-car Voice Assistants for Malaysia

GKUI (Geely Key User Interface) takes convenience to another level by connecting drivers to their cars remotely and providing them with an advanced navigation system, music sharing software with access to over a million songs, and a tailored radio function. The highlight, however, is its self-adapting voice assistant, which makes use of cloud computing and deep machine learning to recognise various voice commands, thereby enabling it to execute the most appropriate action or response.

Although GKUI has been extensively tried and tested in China, introducing it to an entirely new market is a monumental task. PROTON, being the first of Geely’s brands to introduce the system outside of China, had the opportunity to also be the first to engineer it into English. However, this is far more complicated than a simple translation exercise.

Like most countries in the world, Malaysians speak a unique form of English that is even highly inconsistent among many of its populace. In addition to each ethnic group having its own accent and speech pattern, the language they use may also include a word or two from their own mother tongue. Let us also not forget that every other sentence in Malaysia has to end with ‘lah’, a term that is used to add emphasis on whatever is being said.

So, to make the GKUI suitable and relevant to the local market, ECARX (an independent company strategically invested by Geely) and PROTON, now operating under a jont venture company called ACO Tech Sdn Bhd, had to bring in over 200 individuals to provide voice samples.

They were first asked to record a short phrase, “Hi Proton”, in their own respective accents – this is the system’s wake-up phrase. Next, they were asked to record 32 barge-in commands, such as “Lower the window” or “Switch off the AC”, to help the system understand local word pronunciations and common instructions. Each phrase had to be recorded 10 times rapidly and 10 times slowly to ensure the system can capture and understand them at varying degrees of speed.

Understanding local nuances is crucial in getting it right. PROTON, who will soon be entering into other markets in Southeast Asia, has already begun working on the Thai version of GKUI. The development team were first presented with a library of words that were translated from Mandarin Chinese to English and then to Thai – an overly complex and flawed process. Eventually, a native Thai speaker was brought in to advise further on local culture and customs so that the system can make better sense of what is being said.

Besides language, another key challenge faced by the team at ECARX and PROTON was recalibrating the navigation application to reflect the local topography and traffic situation. For this, the team first obtained raw mapping and location data then gave it to a third-party known as a ‘compiler’, which would then be integrated into the GKUI via an application known as New Navigation.

Now that the GKUI has been tested and proven in Malaysia with English as its language of choice, it will next set its eyes on Europe with the global of Lynk & Co. Limitations only allow for one system language and at this point, English seems to be the preferred choice. However, much like with the populace of Malaysia, some time will be required to prepare the system for the various accents and vocabulary used throughout Europe. But if Malaysian optimism is to prevail, “No problem lah!”

WeChat Official Account