Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa, is exploding in popularity. Now Alexa is coming to your next new car.
The Consumer Electronics Show is underway and automakers and their suppliers are showing off the next big infotainment developments. Both Toyota and Panasonic announced that they will be adding Alexa to vehicle platforms starting this year. Toyota promises to incorporate Alexa into its Entune 3.0 App Suite and Lexus will add Alexa integration to its similar Enform App Suite 2.0 starting this year in limited models and will expand availability in 2019. “Voice services are rapidly becoming more popular and through our integration with Amazon Alexa, Toyota and Lexus customers will soon be able to easily speak to Alexa in their cars while on-the-go,” said Zack Hicks, senior vice president and chief information officer of Toyota Motor North America and chief executive officer and president of Toyota Connected.
Toyota offered examples of what its Alexa integration could do, and listening closely one does not hear that Alexa will be performing vehicle operations. Toyota suggests that Alexa might “Adjust your smart home’s temperature so it’s comfortable when you get there, add milk to your shopping list on your way to the store, or listen to your audiobook from Audible.” Notice that “change the vehicle’s drive mode from Comfort to Sport” is not on that suggested ideas list. It will be interesting to see what Alexa is allowed to control and not control.
Panasonic is also working alongside Amazon to deliver an Alexa experience optimized for in-car use. Panasonic does say that its Alexa integration will allow for vehicle systems controls, specifically listing HVAC control and navigation settings. “We’re thrilled that Panasonic has chosen to embed Alexa technology into its automotive software,” said Ned Curic, Vice President, Amazon Alexa Automotive. “Alexa can help customers with thousands of things in the car – navigation, music, audiobooks and more. This is a big step toward bringing Alexa to customers wherever they might need her, whether they’re at home or on-the-go.” Interestingly, Panasonic says that its system will allow select Alexa capabilities available with no Internet connection required. Those won’t include arming your home alarm or closing a garage door. However, when an internet connection is available, everything possible with Alex may be on the table.
Cars can already work using voice commands for dozens of useful tasks. So, aside from its ability to go beyond the bounds of the vehicle itself, why is Alexa making inroads in cars? Because according to Consumer Reports, the majority of drivers are not thrilled with in-car voice command systems. Only 28% report being “very satisfied” with in-vehicle voice command systems. And the brand matters – a lot. Ford and Tesla hover around the 50% mark of users who are very satisfied, while Honda’s in-car system satisfies just 16% according to Consumer Reports survey respondents.
Just how popular are voice searches and voice interaction with smart devices like phones in cars? According to HigherVisibility.com, only about 29 percent of people don’t use voice commands on their smart devices. That leaves a solid 71% who do use voice commands now. The site says that 53% of existing audible command users already employ it while in their car (and 2.3% use it in the bathroom). 21% of users say they use voice commands every day and the most common answer for why they use it is “it is easier.” One other interesting trend regarding voice commands of smart devices is that men are more likely to be users than women.
If you think this new Alexa trend will cause mayhem in the streets, perhaps a study by the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab may counter that idea. Researchers found that older drivers benefited the most from voice command systems and that the technology may act as an “age-equalizer” in a driver’s ability to focus on the road ahead. IIHS determined back in 2015 that voice commands can reduce some types of in-vehicle distractions. If Alexa can simplify and improve on in-vehicle audible commands, we say, bring it on.