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Alexa Custom Assistant Will Power BMW’s Voice AI

BMW and Amazon revealed plans to build BMW’s next-generation voice assistant as an Alexa Custom Assistant platform. A presentation at Amazon’s annual hardware event showcased how the collaboration will speed up the deployment and reduce costs for BMW, even as drivers can still interact with the BMW-branded assistant as though it were built in-house.

BMW Alexa

“The Alexa technology will enable an even more natural dialogue between driver and vehicle, so drivers can stay focused on the road,” BMW senior vice president of development technical operations Stephan Durach said in announcing the new voice AI with Amazon devices and services business senior vice president Dave Limp. “This will bring the digital experience to an entirely new level.”

BMW didn’t explain how this will affect the recent extension of its long-term partnership with automotive voice AI developer Cerence. Cerence only recently shared its plans for a revamped version of its BMW voice assistant, set to arrive in the BMW 7 and i7 models this fall, The exact models for the Alexa-based assistant haven’t been announced yet. BMW and Amazon only said it would be in the next two years or so. The appeal of designing its voice AI as an Alexa Custom Assistant is not hard to see. It’s all of the customization benefits of independence but powered by all of Alexa’s Amazon support and regular updates. Plus, should BMW’s contributions fall short, the AI will turn to Alexa for help.

“Since we launched Alexa Custom Assistant last year, we’ve continued to improve the solution for automakers and developers. We’re particularly excited about some of the natural language and artificial intelligence advancements we’re delivering, including the capability to effortlessly build multilingual voice personas at scale and enabling uninterrupted voice interactions even when customers are in an area without connectivity,” Amazon smart vehicles vice president Anes Hodzic explained. “We’re also making it easier to create custom skills that are context-aware and proactive.”

BMW has been active in augmenting its voice AI platform with new features like Cerence’s driver-customized wake word. The Cerence deal hasn’t been exclusive so that different models may run on one or more voice AI systems. BMW made Google Assistant accessible in 2017, a year before Alexa became an option. Most recently, BMW began working on incorporating Google’s Android Automotive platform into at least some of its vehicles. It may just be that some of BMW’s planned vehicles work best with Amazon’s approach to the technology.

“This cooperation with BMW is a great example of what Alexa Custom Assistant was designed for — to make it faster and easier for companies to develop custom intelligent assistants for virtually any device, without the cost and complexity of building from the ground up,” Limp said.

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