Toyota announced that Amazon Alexa will be added to select Toyota and Lexus models in 2018. Some vehicles with the Toyota Entune 3.0 app or Lexus 2.0 Enform App Suite will get access in 2018 and other models will be added in 2019. Zack Hicks, senior vice president and chief information officer of Toyota Motor North America commented:
Voice services are rapidly becoming more popular and through our integration with Amazon Alexa, Toyota and Lexus customers will soon be able to easily speak to Alexa in their cars while on-the-go…This makes Toyota and Lexus vehicles among the first to bring the convenience of Alexa into the car and onto the road.
The latter statement is true. Although many automakers have launched Alexa skills, they have typically only integrated with the cars’ telematics systems. This meant you could lock the car or even start it remotely in some models, but there was no Alexa interaction inside the car. Toyota is bringing Alexa to the driving experience and joins Ford, BMW and SEAT with this commitment.
A True Always Listening Alexa Experience
Another voice assistant feature common on smart speakers is the ability to just speak to invoke Alexa. Most voice activation in cars requires a button-push on the steering wheel to initiate an interaction. That might be okay for the driver, but makes voice interaction inaccessible to passengers. Just speaking is the most natural interaction. A Toyota spokesperson said that there will be a mute button similar to an Amazon Echo device, but otherwise Alexa will be listening for the wake word.
The experience will be similar to the Alexa home system[.] A user can disable the “listening” mic by pushing a mute button, and then turn off mute when they want Alexa to listen or hear a command. If not muted, Alexa is only listening for the wake command of ‘Alexa,…’
CES Voice Technology Announcements for Auto are Plentiful
CES has had no shortage of automotive announcements involving voice interaction this year. Panasonic, the number one global developer of car infotainment systems, kicked things off on Monday announcing upcoming integrations with both Alexa and Google Assistant. Google also announced that Android Auto now supports Google Assistant. This should make it easier for 400 car models to quickly bring Google Assistant onboard. There are also demonstrations of SoundHound’s Hound voice assistant for Hyundai cars and a new device from Anker that enables you to add Alexa access to any car.
The car is a natural destination for voice assistants. Drivers require hands free and eyes free interaction for safety. Voice assistants are well positioned to provide hands free interaction to control in-car features and extend the value proposition to communications, information access and smart home device control outside the car. And, there is the added convenience of in-car voice ordering like Ford has enabled for Starbucks customers.
Amazon is Moving Quickly
Unlike Google, Amazon doesn’t have the benefit of several years’ history with leading car manufacturers. Yet, it is moving quickly to close the gap. Infotainment providers Garmin and Panasonic made announcements this month with Amazon Alexa Automotive. Toyota’s announcement takes this to a new level. It is especially noteworthy because Toyota is the world’s largest automaker by volume and does not currently support Android Auto. This means Alexa could have an early, and uncontested, advantage in Toyota and Lexus cars. John Scumniotales, head of product for Amazon Alexa Automotive.
Our vision for Alexa is that she should be everywhere a customer might need her – at home, in the office, on phones – and in cars.
This announcement comes on the heels of the revelation that Amazon will soon be providing an offline version of Alexa that can work in environments without consistent internet access. Today Alexa must go to cloud to perform even basic functions. The Alexa Onboard solution was first reported by Voicebot and will enable Alexa to perform some functions without accessing the cloud. This will be true in the car as well as on smart speaker devices according to Amazon’s Jeff Taylor.