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Continental & Elektrobit Announce the First In-Vehicle Integration of Amazon's ‘Alexa Custom Assistant'

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【Summary】In order to integrate powerful AI technologies into production vehicles, automakers are turning to their OEM suppliers for new technology solutions. The latest collaboration comes from automotive component supplier Continental and software developer Elektrobit. The two companies announced on Tuesday the first ever in-vehicle integration of Amazon’s “Alexa Custom Assistant.”

Eric Walz    Jun 15, 2021 3:00 PM PT
Continental & Elektrobit Announce the First In-Vehicle Integration of Amazon's ‘Alexa Custom Assistant'

Cars, smartphones and other devices are getting smarter thanks to the integration of advanced AI-powered voice assistants that can be summoned with simple commands or requests. 

This same technology, which includes Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant is now finding its way into the auto industry. The technology allows drivers to access vehicle controls and get direction by using their voice,  which cuts down on driver distractions and can make roads safer.

To integrate powerful AI technologies into production vehicles, automakers are turning to their OEM suppliers for new technology solutions. The latest collaboration comes from automotive component supplier Continental and software developer Elektrobit.

The two companies announced on Tuesday the first -ever in-vehicle integration of Amazon's  "Alexa Custom Assistant", which is a comprehensive solution that lets automakers access Amazon's advanced AI-powered voice assistant technology to create their own branded, intelligent assistants for their vehicles.  

The Alexa Custom Assistant allows automakers and developers to leverage the familiar Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) to add unique capabilities tailored to their brand. The ASK provides self-service APIs and tools that developers can utilize to build custom Alexa skills.  

The latest collaboration combines the strength of both companies. Continental is providing its automotive electronics expertise while Elektrobit will contribute its software expertise.

Elektrobit's software already powers over one billion devices in more than 100 million vehicles and offers solutions for car infrastructure software, connectivity & security, automated driving and related tools. The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Continental. 

Elektrobit also has over 18 years experience in creating multimodal HMIs (voice, gesture, touch and graphics) and 14 years of continuous product development of speech and graphic user interface tools, all of which are showing up in modern vehicles. The company has worked with automakers BMW, Daimler, Ford, GM, Volkswagen Volvo, and others on their global vehicle technology.

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Continental's Cockpit High Performance Computer (HPC)

The Alexa Custom Assistant will be integrated into Continental's Cockpit High Performance Computer (HPC), which is designed to be the centerpiece of UX in the car. 

The HPC integrates all of the cockpit domains into a single high-performance computer. More importantly, it offers reduced cost and complexity for vehicle manufacturers over the whole entire vehicle lifecycle, according to Continental.

The HPC offers innovations like 3D displays, Augmented Reality Head-Up displays, on demand displays and buttons to change how people interact with their vehicles. 

The Alexa Custom Assistant is built with Alexa technology, provides automakers with access to world class, voice-controlled AI technology that can be customized with unique wake words, such as "Hey car." The Customer Assistant also seamlessly works with Alexa, providing the familiar voice assistant experience they're used to.

With the rise of AI-powered voice assistants, the car is now becoming the next space for consumers looking to leverage voice technology outside of the smart home or workplace setting.

For automakers, building an intelligent assistant is a complex, time-consuming, and costly investment. Since the assistants are always improving and getting smarter, substantial ongoing investments are needed to keep the system always up to date.

The Alexa Custom Assistant addresses this challenge by allowing automakers to leverage Amazon's world-class AI-powered technology stack to create their own voice-powered vehicle assistants without the investment, long development cycles, and resources to build it from scratch and maintain over time.

This integrated hardware-software solution helps automakers more quickly add customized voice experience to their vehicles that can define their brand.

Alexa's presence alongside the vehicle-branded assistant also provides drivers and passengers with access to tens of thousands of Alexa skills and integrations, including smart home controls, entertainment, shopping, food & drinks, mobility services and more.

Vehicle infotainment systems developers can also leverage Alexa's pre-built capabilities such as local search, weather, timers, and alarms, to further accelerate time to market.

To create natural voice responses, automotive brands can choose their own unique voice for their vehicles. Automotive infotainment developers can consult with Alexa voice science experts to guide them throughout the recording process and develop the voices using advanced machine learning algorithms. 

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (now called Stellantis) was the first Alexa Custom Assistant customer, and has already begun the planning process for the development of a Stellantis-branded intelligent assistant for integration in select vehicle models.

"The automotive cockpit is changing. With the addition of more displays, cameras, sensors and advanced features, it is becoming increasingly complex. Additionally, boundaries between life in and outside the vehicle continue to blur, with consumers expecting a seamless technology experience no matter where they are," said Jens Brandt, head of Human Machine Interface, Continental North America.  "Working together with Amazon, we enable automakers to create world-class customized voice AI experiences that maximize resources and enhance the customer experience."

With Alexa Custom Assistant, custom experiences can also be programmed into the vehicle, enabling a natural dialogue between the driver, assistant and Amazon's Alexa to fulfill a driver's request. 

Alexa's advanced AI ensures each passenger request is routed so that the assistant can provide the most relevant response. For example, if a customer asks Alexa to roll down a car window, or why their check engine light is on, the request will be seamlessly routed to the vehicle's assistant. However, if a customer asks the vehicle assistant to play an audio book, the request will be automatically routed back to Alexa Custom Assistant, which interfaces with Amazon's Kindle e-book library. 

Automakers can even customize their brand's assistant with unique wake words and capabilities that seamlessly work with Alexa.

"Advances in AI are making voice experiences in the car more natural, conversational and user-friendly – and we want to make this innovation accessible to any automaker," said Ned Curic, vice president of Alexa Auto. "Our collaboration with Continental and Elecktrobit gives the industry a highly integrated and scalable solution for adding customizable in-vehicle experiences to cockpit systems while reducing the burden of building and maintaining the core capabilities of an intelligent assistant – enabling automakers to focus their time and resources on creating other unique features that delight their customers."

Elektrobit is a software expert with more than 30 years serving the industry. The company previously showcased its cockpit integration with Amazon at CES in Las Vegas in 2019 and 2020. This latest product is an extension of Elektrobit's existing partnership with Amazon as one of the first and a leading integrator of Alexa voice technology in vehicles. 

"It's exciting for EB and Continental to pave the way, making it easier for OEMs to add cutting-edge features to their vehicles," said Christian Reinhard, executive vice president, Elektrobit. "This first-of-its-kind integration of Alexa Custom Assistant is the logical progression of EB's groundbreaking work with Amazon."

Continental and EB's in-vehicle integration of Alexa Custom Assistant will be demonstrated at "Alexa Live", a virtual education event hosted by Amazon for the Alexa developer community. 

Automakers are invited to join the session on July 21, by registering here: http://amazon.com/alexalive.

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