By on August 9, 2018

Amazon Alexa ford center

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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22 Comments on “Talking Cars: Amazon Lets Loose Alexa Software Kit for Infotainment Systems...”


  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Sweet!

    Everything the driver and passengers ever say to Alexa, Siri or whomever is culling the metadata can now be monitored, recorded, analyzed, parsed and sold to other commercial entities and inevitably scooped up by a plethora of governmental entities!

    Fun times!

    DELETE FACEBOOK – DELETE TWITTER ACCOUNTS – STAY AWAY FROM ALEXA AND SIRI AND OTHER SIMILAR SPIES – GET AWAY FROM ALL SOCIAL PLATFORMS WITH UNCHECKED INVASION OF PRIVACY

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Also, PLEASE, if you care about 1) privacy, 2) the growth of literal near-monopolies (if not outright ones) that are quashing competition in important technologies, and even partnering with government in a threatening way to civil liberties, and 3) intentional behavior conditioning being baked into the code to get as many people addicted as possible (in exactly the same manner all manner of drugs and psychoactive compounds are addicting) –

      STOP using GOOGLE, and start using duckduckgo or startpage instead, in addition to deleting FACEBOOKTWITTERINSTAGRAMandOtherSOCIAL-PLATFORMS.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy

      +1 to DW’s advice.

      Take it from an IT professional with 20 years in the industry that most social media users are unaware of the amount of personal data that these platforms collect about them. I used to work for a company that dealt with FB data and I was floored at how effectively GPS, communication, search and image data was combined and analyzed to build detailed demographic and psychological profiles that are for sale to anyone wanting to influence your choices and decisions.

      Even if you think that you’re OK with it, at least get your kids off social media – as they are the number one target of these companies. To me, FBs quest for “engagement” sounds a lot more like research into building dependence and addiction than improving its users lives.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Thanks carguy.

        Since you are in the industry, I appreciate the feedback.

        When humans look back at the FACEBOOKGOOGLETWITTERINSTAGRAMALEXASIRI-ETC period a decade from now, they will literally cringe in disbelief at how they were precisely tracked, spied on, profiled, online and OFFLINE, with their specific and highly detailed personal attributes, habits, locations, personally identifying information and that of their family members stored, with this data and information sold to many hundreds of other companies for all sorts of nefarious purposes, as well as freely shared with government agencies, and how they another children were intentionally manipulated into becoming addicted (it’s a feature of the coding, that targets serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins – just like addictive Sunday yes do).

        The U.S. allows these companies to basically do whatever they want through self-regulation, unlike the EU and Canada, which at least have some stricter privacy laws in place.

        Addiction to social media already a clearly defined and very real (solid data through solid studies and science) mental health disorder that’s in the DSM, now.

        • 0 avatar
          Luke42

          IT pro for 25 years here.

          The arguments against Google + Facebook + et have merit. They are arguments I’ve made myself. However, I also use these tools myself.

          The privacy-cost is balanced by the fact that Google and Facebook are useful tools which address real human needs — such as the need for information and the need for communication/community with far-flung family and friends.

          Google and Facebook are really good at these things.

          This is why the above arguments haven’t killed off these Internet giants. It’s not because of some sort of failing of average people, it’s because these tools provide a great deal of value in exchange for the privacy-cost.

          It’s a tough knot to untangle.

  • avatar
    TDIandThen....

    Maybe I’ll start a business in stripping these features out of your new car, for consumers who value privacy and driving. I imagine some programmers will create some elegant solutions.

    Me, maybe I will go buy that ten-year old Saab Aero after all.

    (….Nah, I’ll probably just accept our robots like everyone else.)

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      It’s funny you mention SAAB, I have had this sudden SAAB fixation after playing around a 05 9-3 in a junkyard.

      The fact an 05 SAAB with no body damage and near perfect interior was in a junkyard should be enough to dissuade me from looking at them but…

      • 0 avatar
        TDIandThen....

        I have the clear impression that post-2000 ‘modern’ SAABs either self-grenade from an electrical system issue immediately (whereupon you’re required to scream ‘Thanks a LOT GM!!’ as you put the postage on your letter bomb), or they last to 300,000 miles without more than a coil pack and maybe tie-rod ends plus regular service. They’re on the market for $5000 in many cases, meaning for funny money as these things go. I mentally budgeted $5k for purchase and $3k for immediate repair / replacements / upgrades but I see lots of less expensive models out there.

        • 0 avatar
          Hummer

          Interesting, I knew electrical issues were common. But for such an interesting car, that come with a lot of great features they sure do go for almost nothing*. I’m guessing bumpers are either crazy expensive or either unavailable because from what I’m seeing damaging just the bumper is a total. There was an 07 9-5x that was for sale for 1,600, apparently insurance totaled it due to breaking the plastic at the bottom of the bumper. I’m half interested assuming everything else checks out.

          *Excluding the 9-4x that is, I think it’s crazy a CUV that was only produced for about 500 units can hold value like it has.

          • 0 avatar
            TDIandThen....

            I would give it a shot; if it’s survived past 50,000 miles / km without a major issue then it should be fine for a much longer term with a little initial aggressive mechanical attention. (And particularly sensible dollar-wise if you repair your own.) I find a fair number of owners obsess over care and feeding and want their Saab to go to an enthusiast – there are some great forums – but prices are suppressed. A little careful shopping should be rewarding and parts as you’ve seen are plentiful both in junkyards and at retailers still. And NEVS is running a 9-3 EV meaning that some parts may continue for a very long time.

            As for totalling a car with minor damage, I don’t know. The mechanicals are generally quality and front ends include headlight washers and all kinds of safety equipment that was advanced and more Saab than GM, while the interiors were almost all cheap GM switches. I think that speaks to the cost of using mechanics for perfect repair rather than doing it yourself. But, I’m speculating.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I don’t even know how these connected items work. There’s the OK Google bot thingy in the house, but we don’t have connexted appliances or thermostats or thingamablibbers. Mr OK Google is pretty much only good at speaking the weather and telling me I’ve offended him.

    In the Mazda I’ve determined the two menus that I need for basic functions, not counting the hardcoded buttons. Otherwise, I used to shout at Mrs Sync. Color me unimpressed by voice activated thingamabobs.

  • avatar
    Fred

    I looked it up and you don’t have to have a Prime account to use Alexa. So now I hope that there is off button somewhere, or maybe I can short out the microphone and hopefully it’s not the same one I use to talk over the phone.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    Absolutely no way am I permitting any of this in my vehicles. I think the idea of starting a service to disable all of this crap for sentient drivers is a great idea.

  • avatar
    George B

    Will Lincoln offer Alexa Silver?

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    “Alexa, f**k off.”

  • avatar

    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!


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