You’re likely familiar with Amazon’s cloud-based virtual home assistant Alexa. She’s the little voice that lives inside the Echo, a device which allows consumers to manage their calendar, set alarms, create a shopping list, adjust the thermostat, play music, and a multitude of other functions all via voice command. However, if you’re anything like me, you probably just ask Alexa to tell you bad jokes and read the morning news.
Alexa has found her way into cars lately — most notably those produced by Hyundai, thanks to a partnership with Amazon. But it looks like she’s about to find her way into a whole bunch more. On Thursday, Amazon announced the Alexa Auto Software Development Kit, which provides developers a way to easily integrate all of Alexa’s functions into automotive infotainment systems.
With connected cars becoming increasingly prevalent, this was bound to happen. Amazon already sells a slew of Echo devices with Alexa and her pleasant-sounding voice — which I find infinitely more enjoyable than Siri’s uncompromising sternness — baked in. The Echo’s functions have also become increasingly complex in the few short years it has existed, allowing for progressively greater home integration and automated feature. Alexa can now be asked to dim the lights, control the television, and make phone calls.
She can also be upgraded with skills, which basically function as apps. These allow her to do things like access your social media accounts, read books, and control home security. Meanwhile, Alexa is becoming increasing proficient at handling vague commands and is starting to learn how to read people’s emotions.
Presumably, she’ll maintain the majority of these functions after making her way into automobiles, though it doesn’t appear she’ll possess the full range of capabilities found in Hyundai vehicles with Blue Link — things like unlocking the doors or preheating the car to a desired temperature.
The Alexa Auto [Software Development Kit] includes core Alexa functionality, such as speech recognition and synthesis, and other capabilities such as streaming media, controlling smart home devices, notifications, weather reports, and tens of thousands of custom skills. Additionally, the SDK provides the hooks required to connect to a wake word engine, local media player, local phone, and local navigation system.
That’s still impressive, and would allow access to home controls from inside the car, creating an more complete package than, say, a car that simply allows voice commands. Numerous automakers are working on installing Alexa into their automobiles with full integration — including Volkswagen Group, BMW, and Ford. But we expect the development kit to up the ante almost immediately.
Our take? While we’re eternally skeptical of the pitfalls of connected cars, mainly because automakers are eager to sell your personal data and inundate you with multimedia distractions, this is the other side of that coin. Alexa’s ability to understand voice commands is superb and the less time you have to spend screwing around on a touch screen the better. Some OEM infotainment systems are an absolute chore to use.
Recently, the American Automobile Association claimed Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are sometimes the safer alternative due to lower cognitive demand. Since you only ever need to speak to Alexa, we assume that demand would be even lower — especially if she’s integrated into more vehicle controls.
It’s also an incredibly cool, although slightly unnecessary, technology. But if we have to have cars that are perpetually connected to the internet and exposed to potential cyber security risks, we might as well be able to talk to them and hear them speak back in a soothing voice.
[Image: Ford Motor Co.]