In 2016 BMW introduced BMW Connected into its vehicles, allowing for Amazon Alexa users to control their vehicle's climate control, lock and unlock doors, and even check fuel status from home. Now, Amazon has announced that beginning in mid-2018 owners of select BMW and MINI vehicles will have access to full Alexa functions in their vehicles.
|With Alexa integrated directly into vehicles, BMWs will have access to the same functionalities as devices like the Amazon Echo (shown). (Image source: Amazon).|
Beyond the standard connected vehicle bells and whistles such as directions, phone calls, music, weather, news, and smart home control, Alexa will offer about 25,000 “skills” available from third parties like Starbucks. Alexa will provide voice responses along with visual cards on the vehicles' control display.
Many of Alexa's skills such as accessing workouts and interfacing with wearables, movies, and video games are more home-centric applications probably best left out of a moving vehicle. However who's to say a busy driver stuck in gridlock won't find it useful to be able to make voice-enabled purchases in their car? Imagine, for example, being able to order a cup of coffee while you're driving and have it ready by the time you arrive at your local Starbucks. Amazon also offers an SDK for developers looking to create Alexa skills so as the technology proliferates we may be seeing companies creating skills uniquely for drivers.
This latest development from Amazon looks to be an attempt to leapfrog competitors such as Apple and Google who have established themselves with CarPlay and Android Auto for allowing users to connect their smartphones to their car. Right now, even if your car doesn't allow for one of those features, you're likely to use Siri or Google Assistant already built into your smartphone for things like driving directions. And while more enterprising consumers could, in theory, use an Amazon Echo inside their car, the scenario isn't likely.
Without a smartphone of its own and most customers unlikely to purchase an additional device for their cars, Amazon will have to go for direct integration if it wants Alexa on the roads. That isn't to say however that Amazon's competition isn't doing the same thing. Earlier this year at its Google I/O developer conference Google detailed partnerships with Audi and Volvo to fully integrate the Android operating system into both companies' vehicles as soon as 2018.
Though no official announcements have been made, an Amazon spokesperson said several other automakers including Volkswagen, SEAT, and Ford have also formally announced they are bringing Alexa into their vehicles, as well.
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Chris Wiltz is a senior editor at Design News covering emerging technologies, including VR/AR, AI, and robotics.