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January 5, 2017

Ford puts Amazon’s Alexa in the driving seat

Amazon continues its push for dominance in the virtual assistant market, joining a number of big names who are looking to voice for the next interface of the future.

By Ellie Burns

As car manufacturers rush to debut their latest innovations in AI and driverless at CES 2017, Ford has announced that it is to become the first car company to use Amazon’s Alexa.

Alexa, a voice-activated digital assistant, will be put in the passenger seat of Ford cars, with drivers able to ask the virtual assistant to play music, search for locations and complete functions such as delivering the weather forecast. Using voice commands, drivers will also be able to add items to shopping lists – a clever move by Amazon to expand its ecommerce reach.

The roll out of Alexa will be available this summer, with the announcement made on the eve of CES 2017. The roll-out will be made in two phases, with the first phase set to complete this month. Owners of Ford cars with the company’s Sync 3 entertainment system, starting with the Focus Electric, Fusion Energi and C-MAX Energi, will be able to control their cars from home. Using Amazon Echo, Echo Dot or Tap speakers, users can unlock their car doors, check fuel levels and start or stop the engine.

The second phase, set for completion in the summer, will see the adding of the ecommerce and integrated smart home features.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHWvpa8Ge58

Ford joins a host of other companies looking to harness the power of spoken word to create a new interface for the modern age – LG is also jumping on the Alexa bandwagon, with the South Korean tech giant set to put the virtual assistant in a refrigerator. Whirlpool, meanwhile, is set to add voice features to appliances such as ovens and washing machines.

The virtual assistant market is gathering pace, with big hitters like Google, Apple, and Microsoft all looking to grab a share of the market. While Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana have seen more traction in the mobile space, Google Home is one of the biggest contenders to Amazon’s Echo, which is powered by Alexa.

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Amazon, however, has taken the lead in embracing third-party software and hardware developers, building arguably the most cohesive ecosystem compared to rivals. Amazon also hasn’t been shy in putting up large sums of money for the development of voice technology; in 2015, the company announced a $100m investment fund for companies with ‘ideas for how voice technology can improve everyday life.’

Amazon Echo, powered by Alexa.

Amazon Echo, powered by Alexa. Users will also be able to pair Echo with their car.

While the promise of IoT for consumers and the connected homes has failed to live up to its hype, many are pointing at Amazon as the company to reignite smart device adoption among consumers. Talking to the FT, Shawn DuBravac, chief economist at the Consumer Electronics Association, said:

“Alexa has . . . revived interest in the smart home, a hotly tipped category a few years ago that has struggled to win over consumers,”

“Makers of lights, thermostats, cars and even door locks have already integrated their devices into Amazon’s platform.”

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