Hyundai Taking The IoT High Road With Alexa Riding Shotgun

Virtual assistants seem ready to hit the road as automakers integrate virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa directly into vehicles’ operating systems. For the January Internet of Things Tracker™, PYMNTS spoke with Cason Grover, who oversees Hyundai Motor America’s connected car program, about how virtual assistants are upending consumers’ traditional views on vehicles.

Earlier this month, the latest tech advancements — from phones to appliances to vehicles — took center stage at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. For several automakers, the show offered an opportunity to showcase their latest vehicle designs that now include a helpful passenger connected to the vehicle’s operating system.

Among the stars of the show was Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa, which is making the jump from Amazon’s cylindrical Echo speaker into the operating systems of several vehicles. Once integrated into a vehicle, Alexa can perform several tasks for motorists. For example, vehicles equipped with Alexa allow motorists to start or stop a playlist or audiobook, update the vehicle’s route by adding a new destination to the vehicle’s navigation system or add items to a shopping list — all through voice commands.

The integration of this virtual assistant is also blurring the boundaries between vehicle and home. About two months before the CES show kicked off, Hyundai introduced a system that allows Hyundai vehicle owners to use Amazon’s Alexa program to remotely start their cars and more from inside their homes.

With a virtual navigator along for the ride, how will consumer attitudes toward vehicles change? Cason Grover, who manages Hyundai Motor America’s connected car program, recently spoke with PYMNTS about how the integration of virtual assistants could change how consumers and automakers view vehicles.

More connection on the road

As Grover explained it, Hyundai sees the integration with virtual assistants like Alexa as a way to reduce the distance between the vehicle parked in the garage and the user in the living room.

“We haven’t, at this point, brought Alexa into the car,” said Grover. “In a sense, we’ve brought the car into Alexa.”

In other words, Hyundai has introduced a way of extending Alexa’s voice command abilities beyond the walls of a home and into the vehicle parked in the garage. From inside their homes, Hyundai vehicle owners can ask Alexa to start their cars remotely, adjust the vehicle’s interior temperature and unlock or lock the doors, among other commands. Owners of one of Hyundai’s greener vehicles, including the IONIQ Electric, IONIQ Plug-In or Sonata Plug-In, can also remotely start and stop the vehicle’s charging process via Alexa.

“A lot of people who’ve adopted these types of devices have found a surprising amount of usefulness,” he said. “You learn in the kitchen with dirty hands that the hands-free experience is very convenient.”

Grover noted that the remote-start capability that the Alexa integration offers is of particular interest to consumers who live in parts of the country that frequently experience extreme cold or hot weather conditions.

“We certainly have a lot of customers we hear from in places like Arizona, where getting the car started to start their air conditioning is just as important as it is to people in Michigan to have the heater [warming up the car],” said Grover.

Hyundai offers Alexa through Blue Link, the automaker’s connected car system. Amazon’s Alexa feature will be available with all 2017 model year Hyundai vehicles equipped with Blue Link (which is available through a $99 annual subscription). The feature is also now available as an upgrade in several 2016 model year Hyundais and the 2015 Hyundai Genesis, Sonata and Azera, which are compatible with Hyundai’s second-generation Blue Link technology.

As devices become more connected to one another in the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem, Grover sees the integration of virtual helpers like Amazon’s Alexa into vehicles as a logical extension of connected devices.

“We are first and foremost trying to give customers what they want,” said Grover. “We know that customers have oriented and invited certain experiences into their life via their phones and via the devices in the home.”

Besides, Hyundai, Ford and Volkswagen also have plans to incorporate Alexa into their vehicles’ operating systems. By moving forward with the integration of virtual assistants, Grover said automakers and developers are changing the way consumers have traditionally viewed vehicles.

“I’d like to think we’re at the forefront, and we’ve brought a lot of solutions to market,” he said.

“People are seeing the vehicle as part of their connected life.”

Rethinking the car

In addition to integrating Amazon’s Alexa into its Blue Link technology, Hyundai is also developing a new system that will be compatible with Google Home technology. The Google Home integration has not yet gone into production, but the automaker gave a demonstration of its capability at CES.

Similar to Amazon’s Echo, Google Home is a voice-activated speaker that is powered by Google Assistant. Once the feature is available, Hyundai said consumers can send their vehicle voice commands, such as remote start, set temperatures and more. The integration also allows motorists to ask Google Assistant to search for a restaurant or coffee shop and have the system send the address to the vehicle’s navigation system.

Grover expects connected vehicles will gain in prominence as the IoT expands and brings greater connectivity between devices.

“When we talk about the Internet of Things, on some level, the car is a thing, and then, with other experiences, the car has its own connection that can interact with other things,” he said.

In addition to recent activity in connected technology being rolled out by automakers, Grover is also keeping an eye on how tech companies will make connectivity a priority in future developments.

“In a sense, they’re trying to build this connected world,” he said. “Just as I imagine anyone else making some kind of consumer good is having to work hard to keep up and keep things connected, we’re part of that.”

“I think anyone who doesn’t do that is at great risk in the future,” he added.

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 To download the January edition of the Internet of Things Tracker™, click the button below…


About The Tracker

The Internet of Things Tracker™ showcases companies that are leading the way in all aspects of the Internet of Things. Every month, the Tracker looks at what these companies are doing across the ecosystem and in several categories, including Personal, Home, Retail, Transportation, Wearable, Mobile, Infrastructure, Data and more.