Fiat Chrysler Integrates Alexa into New Uconnect 5 Automotive AI
Fiat Chrysler (FCA) debuted the Uconnect 5 this week, the latest version of its automotive AI. The Uconnect 5 integrates the Amazon Alexa voice assistant directly into the car, even though it is technically built on Android Auto software.
A Faster Car…Software Platform
Uconnect 5 combines a new hardware system combined with a variation of Android software. According to FCA, Uconnect 5 operates up to five times more quickly than the previous iteration and will be kept up-to-date by software upgrades sent wirelessly to the car. FCA cars had already offered an Alexa skill, enabling drivers to ask an Alexa device at home to unlock the doors and start the car before they walked out of the house, for instance.
The new system makes Alexa more than just an add-on feature. It turns the car into something of a mobile Echo smart speaker, with all of the same capabilities of one the driver has at home. Voice technology has been improved in general for Uconnect 5, with a new microphone and voice recognition engine setup. There’s a native voice assistant in the cars that uses the car brand name as the wake word, meaning no buttons for activating that AI. A mix of Fiat, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram vehicles will sport the new infotainment system at some point this year, though the exact models and dates have not been announced.
Alexa and the car’s voice assistant may be baked into the car when it rolls into a dealership, but other voice assistants won’t be excluded. Uconnect 5 supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for those with the relevant smartphones, although activating them through the car requires pushing a button. The driver doesn’t have to pick just one platform either, as the new system allows users to run two phones at the same time. Even if everyone in the family all uses Alexa, there’s room for customization. Uconnect 5 allows drivers to set up multiple profiles, meaning each driver can have their account linked to their preferences for not only the radio pre-sets and temperature, but the seat and mirror configurations too.
Alexa Moves into a Higher Gear
The FCA arrangement marks a major uptick in Alexa’s automotive integration. General Motors was the first carmaker to announce that it would integrate Alexa into some of its cars last September, followed by Volkswagen in October. Lamborghini and Rivian joined in when they unveiled plans to do so as well at CES earlier this month. Amazon has plenty of competition in pushing for direct integration into cars. Google has been working on embedding Google Assistant into the Tata Altroz and demonstrated the integration with the Volvo XC40 Recharge at CES, while Honda recently launched a voice assistant built on SoundHound’s Houndify platform and Ford created its own voice assistant in-house for its vehicles.
A recent Capgemini Research Institute report predicts that close to three-quarters of drivers will use a voice assistant in the car by 2022. Automakers and voice assistant developers both want the transition between using a voice assistant at home and using one in the car to be as seamless as possible, immersing the driver in whatever voice AI ecosystem they prefer or are most familiar with. FCA isn’t forbidding other voice assistants from its cars, but the Alexa integration certainly implies which voice assistant the company is betting more people will be using before they get on the road.