Hermann Hänle
18. December 2018 0

Talk to me – the Amazon car

“Alexa, take me home” – or something similar could become the new standard for the autonomous future of cars. Voice interfaces are not the next, but currently the “big thing”. No wonder – communication couldn’t be easier or more natural.
The once belittled Siri, Alexa and Co. now accompany us in all areas of our lives. They are becoming new platform services (standards) with all-round use – whether that be operating apps on the move on smartphones, in stationary homes with networked kitchen appliances (Amazon has just recently presented an Alexa wall clock and an Alexa microwave), or in our mobile living rooms, aka our cars.

Serial production of Alexa

With Ford, Seat, BMW, Mini and Hyundai, the list of automotive manufacturers already relying on Amazon’s Alexa is quite impressive. Volvo, for example, relies on Google. Other providers are going their own way with their voice assistants, but are also involved with their own skills for Alexa (in order to keep all options open). Behind all of this is the issue of a closed, self-controlled ecosystem or the use of an open (externally controlled).
That means give and take – on the one hand, Amazon offers its entire development work for a technically mature service, while on the other hand, the mail order company increases its presence in new areas of life (whereby the automotive sector will certainly not be the last one). While Amazon is now becoming a supplier to car manufacturers with the integration of Alexa, it is also expanding its own ecosystem. In the process, the “friendship” with Amazon is becoming closer: the mail order company is taking over another area of our lives, which offers potential for generating business. At the same time, this extended integration in our lives gives us an opportunity of getting to know ourselves better as consumers.
That is a clever move from a digital business perspective. With Alexa (which happens to be very conveniently linked to the online shop), Amazon scores in the car on three fronts: more customer knowledge, a broader range and, at the same time, as an (established) platform provider for automotive manufacturers – i.e. Amazon sets standards, which car manufacturers have to orient themselves to if they have opted for the voice assistant. And if Amazon changes the standards, then the OEMs will have to go along with it.

How far should integration go?

At the moment, there’s no way of predicting how far the integration of Alexa in cars will go. Opening doors, switching on seat heating, sounding the horn – those are the original services for cars. Added to that are the services we know from our living rooms: “Play music, call someone, what’s the weather like”. They are available without pressing a button and any intense use of devices. This has a beneficial effect on the driver’s concentration. Whether the local search actually works as promised (or as we know from Google) still needs to be proven. For example, if we look for the nearest pizzeria while we sitting at home, Alexa offers us pizza baking trays from the online shop. So in that case, I’d rather reach for the established flyer on the kitchen pinboard.
It is questionable whether we’d ever get an “Alexa, tell me why the red light is flashing” or “When do I have to refuel/ top up the windscreen water/change the tires?” from one of the established car manufacturers. How far should the external voice assistant be integrated into more technical functions in the car? The OEMs will have to decide on the “red line” at some point. Where I could at best imagine a deeper integration of Alexa would be with one of the young pioneers from China or the USA who want to build digital cars but don’t want to take on the development expense. “Alexa – repair the tire”, will, however, remain a pipe dream even for the drivers of digital cars.
Nonetheless: voice control will become an integral part of cars over the next five years – just like electric windows, touchscreens and ABS. Car manufacturers won’t be able to avoid it. Make or buy – that is the question.
With these thoughts I will go to holidays. Best wishes to all my readers for a Merry Christmas … let’s keep in touch in 2019.

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