New Alexa Auto SDK 4.0 Could Turn Cars into Echo Shows on Wheels
Amazon has added visual options and deeper local connections to its in-car experience as part of the new Alexa Auto SDK 4.0. The upgraded automotive Alexa platform brings the Alexa Presentation Language (APL) for smart displays to cars and emphasizes multimodal design, among other new and improved features.
APL essentially adds visual elements to voice apps, making for multimodal software suited for Alexa devices with screens as well as purely audio devices. Experiences built with APL also adjust to circumstances so that Alexa will alter the displayed information based on lighting conditions and whether the car is moving, adjusting its display accordingly. The multimodal thinking is also why Amazon shuttered its Alexa Display templates in favor of Responsive Templates built on APL this year. Responsive Templates are supported on any Echo or Fire device, as well as many smart displays and smart TVs built by other companies. That flexibility will now be a choice in cars. As multimodal skills are already far more popular than voice-only apps, according to Amazon, it makes sense to want to make them available in cars and ensconce Alexa within the infotainment screens that have become fairly standard in modern cars.
There are many kinds of APL apps, but Alexa Auto SDK 4.0 is starting with just local info and smart homes as active domains, though the company is planning to add more later. The local info domain means Alexa can show search results about nearby points of interest on the screen. Drivers can navigate to them or call them with just one button tap or by asking Alexa. The smart home domain shows Alexa-connected smart home devices on the screen, allowing drivers to check on their status and adjust them by touch or see that their voice command went through, as seen in the images below.
“Our vision is to deliver the best customer experiences in the vehicle using Alexa while making it easier for automakers to integrate these updates into their products. With the release of 4.0, Alexa Auto SDK is more versatile than ever and opens the door for the next generation of Alexa-enabled experiences in the vehicle,” Alexa Auto senior product marketing manager Rob Lescaille explained in a blog post. “Before today, automakers had to develop visual experiences in the vehicle themselves, requiring more development effort and time. APL for Auto reduces that effort by providing a more efficient way to deliver multimodal experiences without creating additional driver distraction. Local Info and Smart Home are the first two domains supported and more will be enabled over time.”
Amazon added a few other new features to APL in Alexa Auto SDK 4.0, including an automatic resumption of media from when the car is turned off to when it starts again. Alexa will also lower the volume of audio content when an alarm or other alert comes in, a feature called ‘audio ducking.’ Drivers can also send out their ETAs as an announcement on Echo devices or as a text message while they are on the road by asking Alexa. Meanwhile, carmakers who integrate Alexa Custom Assistant can set up data exchanges between third-party OEM skills and Alexa so that the skills can apply more information and improve their performance. Amazon imagines a customer asking about a check vehicle light in the car, finding out the problem, and scheduling a service center visit in the same conversation.
When Alexa Auto SDK 3.0 came out last year, it made efficiency its main focus, encouraging carmakers who want to add the voice assistant to their vehicles to do so quickly and easily. Amazon has rapidly extended its automotive endeavors since that launch. Fiat Chrysler created the first Alexa Custom Assistant in February, followed by Garmin’s new voice assistant. Soon after, Nissan jumped first at setting up Amazon’s Connected Vehicle Skill API, and Ford announced plans in May to integrate Amazon Alexa directly into hundreds of thousands of vehicles over the air. The Amazon Fire TV for Auto platform for Jeep and the way Amazon turned the new Range Rover into a mobile Echo smart speaker. The new Alexa Auto SDK is a clear extension of that idea,