Meet Nuance’s Nina, a Siri-Like Virtual Assistant That Breaks New Ground

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Nuance Communications Inc. has rolled out Nina, a Siri rival of sorts that will let developers build mobile virtual assistant features directly into their iOS and Android Apps through an open source software development kit (SDK).

Siri is the linchpin of Apple’s iPhone 4S. That’s for good reason, because the innovative assistant adds a litany of features that make users’ lives easier. However, there are limitations to Siri. Anyone who’s ever used Siri has heard the phrase, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that.” That’s where Nuance’s Nina comes in, to take the next big step in the evolution of mobile virtual assistants.

Nuance also provides voice tools for Siri. Yet while Nina might be considered a competitor to Siri, it is not a clone. There are major differences worth noting. First of all, Nina will combine Nuance’s voice biometrics and Natural Language Understanding (NLU) with the company’s speech recognition and Text-to-Speech (TTS) technologies. According to Nuance, this means that not only will Nina have an easier time understanding what is being said, Nina will also know who is saying it.

Beyond that, instead of operating as a separate engine, Nina will be able to add virtual assistant features to all manner of apps. Developers will even be able to customize their Nina-enabled virtual assistant capabilities, implementing different visual states (such as being awake or asleep) for the “persona” and optional TTS voices.

If all works as planned, Nina will raise the bar when it comes to virtual assistant functionality by letting users perform tasks like paying bills and transferring money between accounts through a single voice command.

Nina will also support Nuance’s VocalPassword, which utilizes biometrics to authenticate users through voice alone, without any requirement for passwords.

“Nina is a watershed innovation for the automated customer service industry, not only because it brings the virtual assistant directly into an app, but because it raises the bar through its level of interactive dialog and language understanding,” maintained Robert Weideman, executive VP and general manager of the Nuance Enterprise Division, in a statement.

Also in contrast to Siri, which runs on iOS only, Nina will support both iOS and Android OS through its open source SDK.

Like Siri, though, Nina is cloud-dependent. In order to use Nina, users will need to maintain a network connection.

With the Nina product rollout this week, Nuance also announced a partnership with USAA, a leading financial services provider that serves members of the U.S. military, veterans, and their families. A pilot is planned for August and full functionality is expected to be added to USAA’s app by early next year.

The company is also talking to companies in the travel market about using Nina in their apps.

Nina consists of five components: Nina Virtual Assistant SDK; Nina Virtual Assistant Cloud; Nina Virtual Assistant Persona; Nina Virtual Assistant APIs; and Nina Reference Designs.

Nina is available immediately from Nuance in US, UK, and Australian English. Additional language support is planned for later this year.

With a great deal of innovation behind it, and an open source SDK, opportunities for Nina seem boundless. Will Nina spur other competitors to strive for similar technologies? There’s one thing for sure, and it’s that Nina is the next big step in mobile virtual assistants.

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