Amazon doesn’t build cars, but its presence in the auto industry is growing. It announced a feature called Alexa Custom Assistant that allows car manufacturers to customize their voice recognition technology.
In essence, the feature is built around the same artificial intelligence-powered digital assistant that millions of people have in their homes and that is built into their models by countless car manufacturers. Businesses that choose to use the Custom Assistant toolkit can personalize the technology by choosing unique wake words, selecting different voices, and adding or removing features depending on the type of car they’re going in.
Amazon will lay the foundation and each company will choose what it builds on it. For example, Dodge could replace “Alexa, start the engine” with “Alexa, start my big old Hemi.” Or Jeep can teach the assistant to disconnect the Wrangler’s stabilizer bars, a feature the Chrysler 300 doesn’t need. Amazon not only provides a turnkey solution for an undisclosed fee and offers businesses an alternative to the tedious and expensive process of developing software in-house, but also promises to continuously improve the technology and fix bugs.
Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) will be the first company to use Alexa Custom Assistant, although we don’t know when it will introduce the feature, or which model (s) will get it first. It is reasonable to assume that other companies will also benefit from it. I’m thinking of Rivian, where Amazon put a significant amount of money into it.
Amazon isn’t the only tech company to see the auto industry as an increasingly important source of income. Google makes its Android software available to companies looking for a shortcut to the land of easy-to-use infotainment systems. Like Amazon, it offers the scale, and its customers choose what’s in it. FCA and Polestar both use an Android-based infotainment system, but the interfaces are not alike.
So far, Apple is the only major outage. Rather than focusing on what it does best – creating and selling software – it is ostensibly developing its own car, which it will reportedly ask Hyundai to build.