Amazon

Amazon Presses The Gas On Voice-Assisted Cars

Among the biggest battlegrounds in retail is not only what amounts to a moving target — but a race involving the human voice. Moreover, now Amazon is reportedly trying to up its presence in this particular and growing area of commerce, a sign of the enormous stakes involved.

The specific area in question is the emerging ecosystem of connected cars and trucks — along with the increasingly popular and even vital area of voice-activated commerce, where Amazon’s Alexa is engaged in fierce competition with similar technology from the likes of Google and others. Most recently, according to a Bloomberg report, Amazon “is trying to persuade automakers to bake the voice-activated digital assistant into their entertainment systems.” Specifically, that effort is being at least partly conducted through a device called the Echo Auto, which according to that report “is the most visible element so far of Amazon’s ambition to take Alexa on the road.”

Connected Vehicle Trends

Connected vehicles stand as one of the next big frontiers of payments and commerce. The motivation for such moves by Amazon and others is made clear by the PYMNTS Digital Drive report. It found that the U.S. commute is a contextual commerce channel worth $230 billion a year in commuter-inspired purchases. That’s not all, though. It’s a connected commuter experience that has increased more than 8 percent since last year.

Voice-assistant technology — already a big hit among first adopters, and quickly moving further into the mainstream, according to most signs — promises to stand as a significant part of the emerging connected-vehicle ecosystem (and, by extension, that includes smart homes and the Internet of Things [IoT]).

The role that voice will play in the lives of commuters and other drivers is becoming more evident. In a previous PYMNTS podcast, Karen Webster and Don Frieden, president and CEO of P97 Networks, not only mapped out that future, but described the primary, immediate challenges that will need to be overcome.

Among the main challenges?

The battle for dominance in this emerging connected-vehicle landscape is a complicated, multiple-part effort that includes payment, commerce and other tech firms, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and operating system providers. Not only that, but does consumers’ use of Alexa in the car guarantee the use of Alexa in the home and vice versa? Do the sides that consumers choose now — when it comes to voice and operating systems — permanently lock them into a particular system, even as the connected-vehicle ecosystem keeps developing?

BMW Deal

Amazon has made previous moves in the build-up to the present. BMW, for instance, has already announced its integration with Amazon’s Alexa. The deal is designed to give drivers access to Alexa skills and voice-activated services directly from the car’s infotainment system.

Here’s how it works: Once the driver is in a compatible car, they’ll be able to make voice commands to control all of their vehicle’s standard features, such as navigation and climate control. They can even check the tire pressure, oil level and other engine settings, and learn more about their vehicles. As they use the assistant, it will get to know them better, remember their preferred settings and even suggest changes over time.

A recent move from P97 also underscores the level activity in this space. A deal involving P97 Networks and Accenture Ventures provides the latest firm demonstration of how that emerging ecosystem is being shaped — and the most recent example of how the various players that will provide connected vehicle payments and commerce are taking sides and forming teams.

Accenture, according to P97, has made an equity investment in the company and formed an “alliance” with it. That means a few things, Frieden told PYMNTS. P97 gets more funding fuel for its ongoing global growth efforts, among the most challenging initiatives for any company. “It’s hard to round up a team around the globe very fast,” he said. Longer-term, P97 gets to team up with a company that has a focus on and experience with voice-enabled payments — which seems all but certain to play a vital role in the rise of connected vehicle payments and commerce, and its success.

Amazon — and probably most other players in this emerging ecosystem of connected vehicles — are not necessarily banking on immediate gains from their recent voice-related moves, at least according to the Bloomberg report. “While colonizing the car probably won’t generate much in the way of revenue at first, just being there would help Amazon position itself for a coming era of voice-based services,” the report stated before going on to quote Mike Ramsey, a senior research director at Gartner who tracks the auto industry.  “Amazon wants to get into the car in a big way,” he told Bloomberg. “They sense that there is a big opportunity.”

As 2019 gives way to 2020 — and the various players in payments, commerce and automotive race to gain better positions in the connected vehicle ecosystem — you can expect much more activity related to the voice-assistant component.

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