CES 2018: Voice control – finally an answer?

10 January 2018 | by Joe Simpson

Alexa. It’s a name you’ll hear over and over again at CES. In case you’ve been on Mars the past couple of years, Alexa is Amazon’s voice assistant, and she is gradually seeping out of the home and into other parts of our lives – like cars.

At CES, several OEMs and suppliers announced they were baking in Alexa integration,  with Panasonic – currently the number one in-car technology supplier to the industry – integrating Alexa into its next generation ‘Skipgen’ platform. Alexa onboard lets you do all the usual Alexa stuff (ask what the weather’s like, get media playlists queued up and find directions to places), but in the car, she’ll be able to do more – and some of it when offline, too. That might include setting the temperature, or raising an open window.

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Not to be outdone, Google’s Assistant is raising its game, too – because you now won’t need to plug your phone in via a cable to be able to activate Android Auto, which you can control via Google Assistant. Users can, as of about now, run Google maps on the car’s head unit, from their pocket.

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For 20 years, the auto industry has tried – and largely failed – to do voice recognition and voice commands in cars. Few consumers use, or like, the current in-car voice control systems. But having got used to Alexa and Google in the home, the car now seems like a natural progression.

So is this disruption? Will we see mass consumer adoption of these technologies? Is this the tech brands coming in and turning voice into the default mode of interface, overnight? Or will Alexa and Google’s assistant prove just as flaky and frustrating when on the move, in a noisy car cabin? Time will tell. We’ll watch with interest.

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The integration these systems bring with other aspects of the home – such as lighting, temperature, fridge content and locking/unlocking doors – is noteworthy, and slick, too. We’ve scoffed at the smart home in the past, but it’s an undeniable trend; we all know someone with a Nest thermostat, Hue lighting, or the aforementioned Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, running smart devices.

That this stuff is now integrating with – and controllable from – the car, is illustrative of how fast things are moving in the industry. Two years ago, Volkswagen talked about Smart-home integration in its Budd.e concept, in a very conceptual way. Now it’s here, real and will be available to use in customer cars in 2018.

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CES 2018