On Thursday, Amazon released a developer kit to integrate Alexa's AI skills into car infotainment systems. Soon you could ask Alexa for directions, to make calls, stream songs, search for nearby restaurants or hotels — just like you do with devices, like the Echo, at home.
Except you don't need to plug your phone into your car, the car is the voice assistant. Amazon doesn't just want to compete with Google and Apple in your home. It's coming for your car, too. Amazon's Alexa voice assistant will soon be "Hey Alexa" ready through the car infotainment system — a territory Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have inhabited for years.
Developers can access the Github repository to build Alexa directly into vehicles. Although any developer can access the kit, it’s mainly intended for car manufacturers and companies that build dashboard systems. So when someone buys an Alexa-ready car it's available to connect to their Amazon-controlled digital life.
The Alexa in-vehicle integration sounds a lot like what Nuance's Dragon Drive automotive assistant has been building into cars for years. It doesn't use the Alexa AI, but the voice recognition company is working on the 2019 version of its car voice-enabled interface that's designed to act a lot like Amazon's Alexa system. It has a similar "Hello, Dragon" call to action or an option to keep the car assistant listening in the background.
A Walker Sands Communications report on retail found more than 40 percent of consumers say they want more hands-free control in the car.
Nuance's system is platform agnostic meaning it's not tethered to only iOS or Android apps, which was a problem that plagued CarPlay at the beginning. (iOS 12, which is in public beta, will open up CarPlay to Android apps. Alexa connects to a variety of third-party apps on the Echo and it's likely to do the same in your car.) Its tech is already in 200 million cars like Mercedes, Toyota, Audi, BMW, GM, and others, but it wants to become more of an Alexa-like program for driver assistance and connect you to your home and other devices beyond the car.
In a car demo this week, Nuance's Dragon pulled up gas stations (and gallon prices) on the route home, played Katy Perry songs from a streaming music service, and looked for coffee shops. It did all that through voice commands and tailored to the driver's preferences, which the system had learned over time. This all happened through the center console touchscreen in a Chrysler Pacifica minivan.
Nuance's concept AI assistant will also offer gaze detection for a more connected experience where you could ask the voice assistant, "When does that store open?" just by looking in that direction.
As the home assistant war wages on, looks like tech companies are taking the fight to the road, too.