Talking Cars: Amazon Lets Loose Alexa Software Kit for Infotainment Systems

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
talking cars amazon lets loose alexa software kit for infotainment systems

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.

From Amazon:

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.]

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6 of 22 comments
  • Jalop1991 Jalop1991 on Aug 09, 2018

    "Alexa, f**k off."

    • See 1 previous
    • Mcs Mcs on Aug 10, 2018

      @jalop1991: "did you say.." "drive off" "do you mean 'drive off road' or would you prefer a cliff?" Noooo "I heard...." "drive off cliff" "Shall I notify your family?"

  • Wadenelson Wadenelson on Aug 10, 2018

    I hope Alexa in a car actually works. Because I cannot find a single car/stereo that will successfully Bluetooth with an Iphone. Apparently Apple sabotages the connection to try and incentivize mfr's to buy Airplay or whatever. Examples: 2011 BMW X3. Audio prompts from Google Maps won't come through the X3's built in audio system. 1997 Lexus with aftermarket Kenwood. 3-5 second "lag" between invoking SIRI on the phone and the Kenwood "beeping" to indicate it is listening. Direction prompts get "swallowed" in the gap as do notification beeps, whistles & farts. I honestly get an BETTER audio connection with an Apple lightning to minii-jack dongle and a cassette-faker-outer in my 1999 Honda CRV simply routing audio directly to the head unit than I do attempting to connect an Iphone, via Bluetooth, TO ANYTHING! TO ANYTHING APPLE YOU SORRY HOSERS!

    • See 1 previous
    • Wadenelson Wadenelson on Aug 10, 2018

      *Apple Carplay

  • Del My father bought GM cars in the 60's, but in 1971 he gave me a used Datsun (as they were called back then), and I'm now in my 70's and am happy to say that GM has been absent from my entire adult life. This article makes me gladder than ever.
  • TheEndlessEnigma That's right GM, just keep adding to that list of reasons why I will never buy your products. This, I think, becomes reason number 69, right after OnStar-Cannot-Be-Disabled-And-It-Comes-Standard-Whether-Or-Not-You-Want-It and Screw-You-American-Car-Buyer-We-Only-Make-Trucks-And-SUVs.
  • 3SpeedAutomatic Does this not sound and feel like the dawn of ICE automobiles in the early 20th century, but at double or triple speed speed!!There were a bunch of independent car markers by the late 1910’s. By the mid 20’s, we were dropping down to 10 or 15 producers as Henry was slashing the price of the Model T. The Great Depression hit, and we are down to the big three and several independents. For EVs, Tesla bolted out of the gate, the small three are in a mad dash to keep up. Europe was caught flat footed due to the VW scandal. Lucid, Lordstown, & Rivian are scrambling to up production to generate cash. Now the EV leader has taken a page from the Model T and is slashing prices putting the rest of the EV market in a tail spin. Deja vu……
  • Michael Eck With those mods, I wonder if it's tuned...
  • Mike-NB2 I'm not a Jeep guy, but I really, really like the 1978 Jeep Cherokee 4xe concept.