Building a smart voice assistant like Alexa is hard, according to Amazon, and we can probably take its word for it. However, that doesn’t mean that voice assistants are out of reach for companies like car manufacturers, for example. Amazon wants car manufacturers to make their own voice assistants, using Alexa’s technology, of course, and the company has already found its first customer: Fiat Chrysler.
Amazon unveiled its Alexa Custom Assistant in a blog post on Saturday, a new solution that allows device makers and service providers build their own smart voice assistants for their brands using Alexa technology. Alexa Custom Assistant allows companies to create an assistant with its own unique wake word, voice, skills, and capabilities. You also don’t have to worry about fights between the brand’s assistant and Alexa, Amazon said, as they will coexist “seamlessly” and cooperate with each other to carry out requests.
Per the companies, the Alexa Custom Assistant relies on advanced AI to route each request to the relevant assistant. In Fiat Chrysler’s case, the custom assistant will act as the “product specialist with features and capabilities specific to the vehicle.”
“[I]f a customer asks Alexa to roll down a car window, or how to troubleshoot a device, the request will be routed to the brand’s assistant. If a customer asks the brand’s assistant to play an audio book, the request will be routed to Alexa,” Amazon said.
It added that having Alexa in the equation also gives the brand access to tens of thousands of Alexa skills and integrations related to smart homes, entertainment, and shopping, among others. Amazon also mentioned that Alexa Custom Assistant was designed with “privacy in mind,” and that it will manage user data associated with it. Take that as you will. Just a reminder, neither Alexa or Amazon have the best track record on privacy.
The way Amazon sells it, Alexa Custom Assistant allows companies to innovate without putting in the investment, long-term continuous development, and resources required to build a voice assistant from square one. Yet, as noted by the Verge, it’s not clear whether Amazon is letting car manufacturers use its custom assistant for free or charging them to licence it.
In a statement, Fiat Chrysler said it has already begun working on developing its own branded voice assistant for future vehicles. The company already has Alexa integrated into some of its vehicles around the world.
“Our customers expect to easily connect with their digital lifestyles wherever they go and today we responded with plans to offer new intelligent experiences built on Alexa’s world-class voice AI technology,” Mark Stewart, COO of the company’s North American operations, said in a statement.
To get a better idea of what a branded assistant could look like, Amazon made a video of a car assistant named “Brandon” for an unnamed brand, which you all can see below. It’s pretty interesting and ambitious, although I do wonder if all of the custom assistant’s skills, as well as Alexa’s, will go off without a hitch as in the video. I mean, the Alexa on my Echo Dot sometimes confuses Spotify playlists, which is a relatively simple task.
That doesn’t mean I don’t think it could get to the level showcased in the video. It’s just that it might take a while, which is also normal.
Amazon has been working on selling itself to automakers for a few years now. It has partnered with them on integrating Alexa into their systems and enabling basic capabilities, like letting users lock their car doors while inside their homes, CNBC reported. It is not alone in its courting, as you might imagine. Apple and Google are also looking to attract automakers with offerings like CarPlay and Android Auto, respectively.
David Limp, Amazon senior vice president for devices and services, told CNBC that users are only going to want to interact with a voice assistant in their cars is if it’s built in. He added that the company has envisioned many possible uses for Alexa.
“Obviously we started with smart speakers, we’ve extended to smart displays, we announced at CES this year with PCs,” Limp said, per CNBC. “We think this idea of ambient computing, and Alexa powering that, it has a lot of breadth and it can be in a lot of different places.”