How Amazon wants to power the future of connected cars

At the 2016 AWS re:Invent conference, Amazon's CJ Frost presented on how its Alexa product and other services will play into the next generation of automotive mobility.

Image: iStockphoto/danielvfung

The automotive industry is changing, rapidly moving from basic transportation to the idea of automotive mobility. And, one company that wants to be at the forefront of that shift is Amazon Web Services (AWS).

At the 2016 AWS re:Invent conference on Thursday, CJ Frost, principal solutions architect for Alexa Automotive, gave a presentation explaining how AWS is looking to embrace the next-generation of connected cars.

SEE: Why the connected car is one of this generation's biggest security risks (ZDNet)

On the retail side of things, Frost said, Amazon has a page called Amazon Vehicles where users can research vehicles they may want to purchase, or vehicles they already own. It also allows them to find parts and compare features as well. But, their big initiatives in connected vehicles are happening in the cloud with AWS and Alexa.

In AWS, there are a plethora of services that play into other connected car services. However, it all stems from how Amazon approaches connected vehicles in general--Amazon thinks of each connected car as an IoT endpoint.

This is where certain AWS services come into play. The Automotive Device Cloud, for example, provides telematics monitoring of various measurements and device control, allowing for remote cloud control of vehicle systems, Frost said.

Most users know Amazon Alexa as the hub through which users can use voice control for their smart home initiatives. Amazon Alexa Automotive provides similar control over the connected car, and Frost said that Amazon approaches Amazon Alexa Automotive in three distinct ways:

1. About the car - This is the concept of being able to learn "about the car" from outside the vehicle itself. For example, users might be able to ask Alexa how much range is left in their electric car, or if their doors or unlocked, and then ask Alexa to lock them.

2. In the car - Of course, this is the idea of being in a car and having Alexa in there as well. Frost said that examples of this principle would be being able to order movie tickets on the way to the theater through Alexa, or ordering a pizza on the way home from work with voice commands.

3. Alexa mobility - Thirdly, Alexa Mobility is what ties the experience together. An example of this experience, Frost said, would be asking Alexa where the nearest Starbucks is, and then having Alexa send the coordinates to the vehicle. Or, asking Alexa to find a parking space at an arena and then reserving it for the driver.

Making this all work well requires experimentation. According to Frost, Amazon is exploring uses for Alexa in the following areas:

  • Mobile device platform integration
  • Head unit integration
  • Microphone array placement
  • Audio modeling for automotive
  • Voice forward interfaces

Still, the question of context remains. It's true, Frost said, that voice isn't always the best interface for what a driver may want to accomplish. The context of the task will determine where voice will work best, where a tap will work best, where a five-way control will work, and where physical buttons will be the best experience.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Amazon is leveraging AWS cloud services and its Alexa artificial intelligence product to build solutions for the connected car market.
  2. Amazon thinks of each connected car as an IoT endpoint, and uses services like the Automotive Device Cloud to tie those endpoints into a greater overall solution.
  3. In the future, Amazon Alexa will be used both outside the car and inside it, and will be tied together to create a unified experience.

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