Amazon Releases Alexa Auto SDK
Amazon today released the Alexa Auto SDK. It is a software development kit designed to, “help simplify the integration of Alexa into in-vehicle infotainment systems.” A blog post by Amazon’s Adam Foster states:
“[Alexa Auto SDK] adds automotive-specific functionality and contextualizes the experience for the vehicle. It includes source code and function libraries in C++ and Java that enable your vehicle to process audio inputs and triggers, establish a connection with Alexa, and handle all Alexa interactions. It also includes sample applications, build scripts, sequence diagrams and documentation – supporting both Android and QNX operating systems on ARM and x86 processor architectures.”
Introducing Alexa Offline
Automotive use cases are different than the home and so are the dependences. One of those is the ability to work offline. Voicebot was first to report on Amazon’s development of an Alexa offline mode to accommodate use cases, including automotive, that may have unreliable or intermittent internet connectivity. According to the blog post, some examples of local integration to information services and features already resident in cars include:
Calling: Enable customers to specify a contact name or phone number and Alexa will instruct the native calling service in the vehicle to place the call.
Media Streaming: Enable customers to stream audio from popular media services, such as Amazon Music, Audible, and iHeartRadio, and display album art and other info to the head unit.
Navigation: Enable customers to set the destination of the native turn-by-turn navigation system by specifying an address or point-of-interest and cancel navigation when the user does not need it anymore.
Local Search: Enable customers to search for restaurants, movie theaters, grocery stores, hotels, and other business, and navigate to the location.
These are all useful integrations because automakers have already gone to the trouble of enabling offline access to the features. Alexa doesn’t need to recreate them. However, the critical component for Alexa offline is the ability to integrate with a local wake word engine. This appears to mean that Alexa can work effectively even if the cloud is not available and the carmaker has another means for a keyword spotting wake word solution. The documentation also shows how Alexa can be activated by a tap on a physical button or screen input or using an always listening wake word engine locally that then connects to the cloud.
Competing with Android Auto
The Alexa Auto SDK is an important development for Amazon. First, it appears to be the only announced solution that allows for Alexa integration to an external wake work engine and a custom, local natural language understanding (NLU) solution. This may be a concession to automakers that insist on having something that works offline, they have control over and leverages the investment they have already made in an onboard system from Nuance or another vendor. Second, and more critically, it will make it easier for automakers to integrate Alexa into their head units and dashboard consoles. Amazon has made significant strides in automative, particularly with Toyota choosing to integrate Alexa into the dashboard and Panasonic offering infotainment system integration to its customers.
However, Amazon is relatively new to automotive whereas Google has been working on Android Auto for the better part of a decade. That is why Google was able to so quickly offer Google Assistant on over 400 car models. It was simply a matter enabling Google Assistant through Android Auto. With that said, details are scarce on the full capability set of Google Assistant in the car, particularly when there is no internet connectivity. This may be a point where Google doesn’t have as big of an advantage.
What you should take from this is that the voice assistant battleground has firmly shifted. Amazon and Google are still competing fiercely for the home, but the battle is moving onto different surfaces. Other appliances such as televisions and media players are a big focus for extension in the home. Outside the home, the battle is heating up on smartphones and in the car. Google has some significant advantages in both spheres, but tools like Alexa Auto SDK are a step toward closing the gap.
It appears Alexa Auto SDK is available in English and Japanese. I have reached out to Amazon to determine what other languages are supported. You can read the documentation here.