Chinese retail giant Alibaba has signed a deal with Daimler, Audi, and Volvo for the use of its smart assistant in their cars.
The solution, called AI + Car, connects users and their cars with Tmall Genie, the company’s intelligent voice assistant. The technology has been created by the firm’s artificial intelligence unit, Alibaba AI Labs.
The system enables connected cars in China to link with Tmall Genie in the cloud, and allows users to link home smart speakers with their cars to monitor conditions or carry out simple tasks. Vehicle owners will also be able to control car doors, windows, and air conditioning from home via voice commands.
Volvo plans to use the Tmall Genie service on its XC90, S90, and XC60 models. Daimler and Audi have yet to specify which models will include the technology.
The future of connected cars
The new system was unveiled ahead of the Beijing Auto Show. It marks the first move into connected cars by Alibaba’s AI Labs as it rolls out a series of IoT initiatives for organisations across areas such as smart homes, education, entertainment, airlines, and hotels.
Lijuan Chen, head of Alibaba AI Labs, revealed the thinking behind the strategy:
Cars are an environment, alongside the home and the office, where individuals spend a significant amount of time, and which through connectivity can become an important part of life.
“Identifying how to serve car users with our smart home assistant Tmall Genie is one of our top priorities. We are thrilled to partner with distinguished auto brands like Daimler, Audi, and Volvo to drive the revolution of smart mobility in China,” she added.
Hans Georg Engel, head of Mercedes-Benz Research and Development in China, said that with the new partnership his firm would be able to focus on “human-centric innovations that provide our customers with a digital experience, both in and outside the vehicle, in order to meet their changing needs”.
Moving forward, Daimler plans to use geofencing technology – developed by Alibaba Cloud’s IoT division – to turn lighting, thermostats and other home appliances on or off automatically when users drive past designated areas near their homes.
Internet of Business says
The value of voice-activated doors and windows, and of linking users’ cars to their homes in order to trigger things like thermostats and lights, might seem trivial at a glance. However, the Internet of Things is all about removing friction from people’s domestic and working lives.
From minor inconveniences, like getting a baby into a car without having to open the door manually, to life-changing innovations, like completely autonomous driving, the IoT is giving time back to users and freeing them up to use it differently.
The integration of voice control is also a huge boost to accessibility, offering a glimpse of a future where disabled car-owners can get into a driverless vehicle and travel to their destination purely through voice control.
As cars evolve through each level of automation, owners – some of whom will no longer actually drive their vehicles – will demand greater connectivity and the ability to use their new-found freedom to communicate with their homes, devices, and other people.
Alibaba and its partners have taken the next crucial step in that journey, and we expect new abilities, like automated fuel stops and drive-through payments, to follow. Yet, as vehicles become more connected, they will also become more vulnerable to cyber attack.
Grand theft auto is becoming an increasingly technical affair, via the likes of signal relays, and Alibaba will be eager to prove that its Tmall Genie platform doesn’t offer new security exploits to tech-savvy thieves and car-jackers.