Ford Motor Co. announced at CES 2017 that it has partnered with Amazon to integrate the e-commerce giant’s Alexa virtual assistant technology into its in-car Sync 3 infotainment systems, and to enable other in-car Alexa applications, such as remote vehicle starting, that will be accessible through Alexa-powered in-home devices like the Amazon Echo.
Ford’s self-described “Alexa on the go” capabilities will be available this summer in vehicles equipped with the automaker's Sync 3 infotainment system. To activate the service, drivers will need to press a button on the steer wheel, and say “Alexa” before asking a question or issuing a command. Functions will include voice-driven order of products from Amazon, but also the ability to listen to audiobooks, play music, check news, search for restaurants and get directions.
Meanwhile, “Alexa at home” applications will be available later this month in Ford’s Focus electric car and its two plug-in hybrids, the Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi. Those applications include the ability to automatically start the car from inside the house, automatically lock and unlock the doors, check the driving range on remaining fuel, and monitor how much charge is left in the car’s battery.
Should drivers really be shopping while they are behind the wheel? Probably not, though some probably do it already today without the help of a voice-activated assistant that might be safer and less distracting than scrolling a phone screen. In any case, that's just one of the things Alexa can do, and it might prove even more valuable in activating in-car entertainment content or assisting with location searches and driving directions.
Amazon just enjoyed a huge holiday season for Alexa-based devices, and the e-tailer recently has been pushing hard to expand the viability of its virtual assistant. News of Ford's integration plans almost seems like it should be more surprising and momentous, but when you can already find Alexa in a refrigerator, seeing Alexa move into cars isn't so surprising at all. Auto makers have advanced far enough with smart vehicles, and Alexa’s influence now reaches so far, that the integration of Alexa into state-of-the-art cars seems like a no-brainer.
A company like Ford probably could develop something similar to Alexa on its own, or work with another company, like IBM, to enable these functions. But Ford’s reliance on Amazon and Alexa is further validation of just how successful and widely used Alexa has become. Loyal Amazon users who were long sold on the virtual assistant's capabilities and have grown comfortable with Alexa to the degree that she is almost a member of their family now have another reason to seek out certain Ford models if they're soon in the market for a new car. And, those with an Echo, Dot or other Alexa device already in their home can look forward to new car control and monitoring applications for their Ford vehicles.
There is no mention of this being an exclusive arrangement between Ford and Amazon, so it will be interesting to see if and how soon Alexa ends up in more vehicles from other automakers. Amazon has recently made clear it wants Alexa to be everywhere, so its adventures on the road are unlikely to be limited to one automaker.