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From print to voice and beyond: How Toyota is transforming the car manual


Over the decades, technology has helped us organize large amounts of physical information in ways that are streamlined, efficient, and easily accessible. Rows upon rows of encyclopedias are no longer needed; simply punch in or speak a query into Google Search and find numerous results at your fingertips. There’s no need to haul around cases of CDs or cassettes either, when you can access hundreds of thousands of songs on music streaming services. 

We wanted to bring that same level of accessibility to one specific type of publication: the printed car manual. Here’s how we shifted the paper manual to become an easy-to-access, voice-activated digital experience for owners of the all-new Sienna. It’s helped this resource become just as modern and useful as Toyotas themselves.

Putting cloud technology in the driver's seat

Far too often, the printed car manual remains unused, collecting dust in the glove compartment—that is, until it’s needed during a roadside emergency or to solve the meaning of a mysterious light popping up on the dashboard. Even then, thumbing through hundreds of pages during high-stakes moments can be stressful. On top of that, these manuals can be expensive to print and update.

Digital versions, such as a PDF file, are a nice start. But, they’re often little more than reformatted flat documents. In poor visual conditions on the side of a road, the last thing a driver wants to do is squint at a phone or scroll through pages of tiny text. And similar to printed manuals, digital versions don’t facilitate ongoing, real-time conversations between drivers and automakers when it matters the most; they’re often only text and pictures, and at best, schematic drawings.

With that in mind, we set out to elevate and personalize the car manual by creating a voice-activated digital owner’s manual experience, all powered by Google Cloud. A voice-based assistant was the clear choice because, as it felt like the most intuitive, natural option, especially while driving. In fact, 51% of U.S. adults have used a voice assistant while driving, and 95% of all drivers expect to use a voice assistant in the next three years. 

We’re now putting this technology on the road by powering the Toyota Driver’s Companion for the all-new 2021 Toyota Sienna model. Accessible through the existing Toyota app, this companion provides real-time assistance, any time of the day. Drivers can ask questions and the companion will efficiently provide helpful answers in convenient ways, from voice to 3D walkthroughs and explorable environments. 

What a modern car manual should do

The Toyota Driver’s Companion has interactive features to help drivers discover the Sienna’s dashboard, set up the car’s interior and exterior appearance, better understand vehicle maintenance, and explore Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert and other features. 

Here are a few other additional key features to call out within the Toyota Driver’s Companion: 

  • An easily accessible virtual voice through the Toyota Driver’s Companion lets app users ask personal questions about their 2021 Sienna such as “what’s the height of my car?” and receive immediate answers either by voice, display or interactive input. 

  • The manual automatically connects with the purchased vehicle’s VIN number to create a completely personalized experience, curated specifically for the driver. For example, if an unfamiliar light on the dashboard pops up, the Toyota Driver's Companion can help identify the light’s meaning.

  • Interactive hotspots throughout the vehicle’s interior let drivers explore the cabin virtually. Drivers can discover button functionalities, find specific dials, and learn more about car functions, such as how to slide seats or open doors, to become acclimated with their new vehicle.
To bring this experience to life, we tapped into some of our key Google Cloud solutions:

  • APIs powered by Google Cloud artificial intelligence technology make accessing specific vehicle information easy and effortless, by leveraging Google’s natural language processing:
  1. Google Cloud DialogFlow API serves as the decision tree that gives intelligence for both finding an answer for a question, i.e., how the Companion responds to the end user’s questions. 
  2. One of our Text-to-Speech APIs—called Wavenet—creates the Companion’s realistic voice. 
  3. And finally, our Speech-to-Text API “listens” to the user's voice and finds the correct information to craft responses. That means a driver can ask a question multiple ways, and the Companion will still respond with the right answer. 
Our Firebase mobile app dev platform gleans analytic insights that help improve the overall experience and services for OEMs and drivers alike.

We’re encouraging better consumer experiences by providing faster access to fresh information, in a natural, accessible format—voice. But these new voice-activated experiences aren’t only an opportunity to help out drivers; it’s also about strengthening connections between drivers, their vehicles, and automakers, too. 

Our hope is that through this information exchange, drivers can provide feedback on the most frequently misunderstood features, enabling OEMs to address questions early on. By understanding the most requested features, OEMs can also predict and inform driver questions about features. We’re incredibly excited to help make the driver’s experience more connected and helpful.

Dominik Wee
Managing Director Manufacturing and Industrial


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