If you know where to look, you’ll spot Amazon’s Alexa at NAIAS this week. Except at Cobo Center the digital assistant isn’t shutting off the kitchen lights, it’s identifying why your check engine light turned on. Wander into the Automobili-D hall and you’ll see how Southfield’s P3 North America has integrated Amazon’s voice recognition platform into the vehicle cabin. You’ll also see how the consulting firm is fine-tuning the experience so you’ll actually want to use what Alexa has to offer instead of fumbling for your phone. The company is also showing a testing device for autonomous systems, MDAPT.
For demo purposes, Alexa functionality is limited to five conditions that’d trigger the malfunction indicator light, in addition to diagnosis and scheduling a maintenance appointment. You can also use voice controls for media playback. Once the tech arrives in your driveway, however, the possibilities “can be essentially endless,” says managing partner Colin Goldsmith. What Alexa is capable of is limited only by what P3 North America’s OEM customers allow, and the “skills” (voice apps) available. Last September, Amazon announced that number was over 50,000 and growing.
P3 knows in-vehicle voice recognition needs work before it goes mainstream. At home, it isn’t a huge deal if your digital assistant garbles a request. When you’re behind the wheel of a 2,000-pound vehicle, it’s different. You need something to perform, frustration free, 100 percent of the time. Otherwise, why not press a button on the dashboard instead? For the sixth consecutive year, faulty voice control systems (typically designed in-house) were the top customer complaint in JD Power’s Multimedia and Satisfaction Study. “We’re in a situation now where we need to turn things around,” Goldsmith says.
Then there’s the issue of privacy. There have been multiple instances in the last year alone where an Alexa device recorded private conversations or personal data and sent it to other users by accident. At P3’s booth, to activate Amazon’s assistant you’ll have to push a button, versus it constantly listening for “Hey Alexa.” Which implementation OEMs choose is ultimately up to them; Amazon Echo speakers and Google Home devices have hardware buttons for muting their microphones. Given how intimate the cabin is, Goldsmith stresses OEMs need to be transparent with customers about what Alexa is doing.
“I don’t want Alexa responding when I’m just having a conversation with someone in the passenger seat,” he says.