Alibaba to put AI-enabled voice assistant inside cars

Updated 2018-04-24 11:19:03

Alibaba Group Holding on Monday announced plans to bring its digital assistant into select cars in China, bolstering its presence in the competitive smart car segment.

This June, select Volvo vehicles, such as the 2018 models of the XC90, S90 and XC60, will be able to speak with Tmall Genie, an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered voice assistant modeled on Amazon's Alexa and created by Alibaba's AI Labs.

Alibaba will gradually introduce the year-old technology into Mercedes-Benz cars and Audi vehicles, letting more drivers control cars from their homes, according to a press release the company sent to the Global Times Monday.

Experts believe that partnerships with global automakers can help popularize the Tmall Genie.

Digital speakers or devices powered by virtual assistants, which offer voice-controlled services from opening home appliances to music streaming and calendar booking, have become one of the hottest consumer products. Players like Amazon and Google are racing to take the lead.

Through the third quarter of 2017, Amazon shipped 20.5 million speakers powered by its virtual assistant Alexa and the shipment of Google's Home worldwide hit 4.6 million, figures from Germany-based market consultancy Statista Inc showed.

Alibaba has shipped 2 million Tmall Genie speakers since the product's debut in July 2017.

The Monday move can also help Alibaba increase its footprint in the smart car sector, Xiang Yang, industry analyst at Beijing-based CCID Consulting, told the Global Times Monday.

Chinese technology giants have been working on connecting cars with the internet. For example, search engine company Baidu has held road tests of its self-driving technology.

Last week, Alibaba confirmed with the Global Times that it is developing self-driving technologies, and media reports said that the firm's first mass-produced autonomous car will hit the road within this year.

Drivers now can use Tmall Genie from their homes to lock and unlock cars and monitor such features as the time needed until an oil change, Alibaba said. Eventually, users will be able to control smart home features while they are on the road.

"The introduction of a voice assistant can enhance drivers' experience, especially with respect to entertainment, but it is risky to drive a car through voice control," said Xiang.

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