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Virtual personal assistants poised for fast growth as Alexa, Google Assistant and others target vehicle integration

Monday, March 4, 2019 - 09:00
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At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, in-vehicle infotainment was a hot topic, with both OEMs and tech companies announcing partnerships and new products that will make vehicles more connected than ever.

Virtual personal assistants (VPAs) like Siri, Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa are also making their way into vehicles. According to new research from IHS Markit, nearly 700 million of these software platforms will be used in vehicles by 2024. That includes embedded systems, smartphone-based solutions, or connections to smart home solutions.

A survey by Voicebot.ai found that 77 million U.S. adults use voice assistants in their cars at least monthly. Google and Amazon have both made strong plays for in-vehicle assistant use. 

“What’s driving this is consumer dissatisfaction with voice recognition systems that come in the vehicles from OEM suppliers,” says Colin Bird-Martinez, senior analyst of automotive software and services at IHS Markit. “Consumers are used to smartphone performance, and want to see cars be more like smartphones on wheels.”

There was also plenty of activity around VPAs at the CES show. Amazon and Qualcomm announced a partnership that will make it easier to integrate its Alexa personal assistant system into vehicles. Alexa will be embedded into Qualcomm’s future auto processors. In the CES demo, a driver was able to use Alexa to play music, start a movie on a backseat display, get directions, and obtain restaurant recommendations. 

Amazon and Alexa were busy at CE. Alexa has mobile app partnerships with Audi, Ford, Lexus, Lincoln, and Toyota, and Telenav announced it would integrate Alexa into its navigation systems. Likewise, HERE Technologies announced that Alexa will integrate its HERE Navigation On-Demand services. 

Eyelights and Alexa have come up with a solution that uses Alexa voice commands to pull smartphone displays onto the windshield, while Jarvish demonstrated its X-AR motorcycle helmet that includes voice-activated heads-up display and augmented reality. At least a dozen other partnerships were also announced at CES that would integrated Alexa with everything form parking apps to audio systems. 

A new player, Nuance, had its own driver assistance system on display at CES. The Dragon assistant can even recognize when a driver yawns, and take action to try to keep them awake or engaged. A camera-based system can even recognize a driver’s mood based on an image of their face. 

Anker has released a Roav Bolt car adapter that uses Google Assistant, while JBL released a similar device called Link Drive that also uses Google Assistant for music, navigation, and other services.

According to the IHS Markit report, Google Assistant and Alexa are projected to be the first significant embedded VPA solutions available in cars via infotainment head unit integration and other systems. Approximately 12 million light vehicles will have this type of system by 2024.

Smartphone integration, however, will account for the largest chunk of the market, with more than 300 million vehicles equipped with such systems in the same period. Roughly 40 million vehicles will have device-to-car systems that take commands from a home device like Amazon Echo or Google Home.

“Some automakers have not made an investment in this technology, and partnering with Google or Amazon helps raise brand awareness and excitement from consumers,” Bird-Martinez says. 

Others are hesitant to adopt third-party technology because they don’t want to lose control of branding and driver data. There are also data privacy and data monetization issues, as well as perceived competition for services between the OEMs and providers like Amazon. 

At CES, Bird-Matinez says he also saw companies trying to develop solutions that would allow access to the full gamut of VPAs through third-party devices. “They were software agnostic and really show the ease of use of these VPAs,” he says. “This goes back to the marketplace idea that GM and Hyundai have followed so that consumers can download different apps and payments for things like gas and food.”

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