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BMW Looks to Expand Alexa Capabilities in Its Cars

by Justin Tejada
For those who need a personal assistant, but can't afford to pay a human being to do the job, Amazon's Alexa has been serving as a dutiful stand-in since it first hit the market in 2014.

Need to know the weather before your commute? Ask Alexa to read you the forecast. Hangry, and in desperate need of take-out pasta? Ask Alexa to order from your favorite Italian place. Need some tunes to pumped you up while you wait for your pasta to arrive? Ask Alexa to cue up a Spotify playlist. With a seemingly endless array of functions, Amazon's voice recognition artificial intelligence product has become an increasingly frequent sight in households.

The potential applications for Alexa's AI technology extend far beyond the home and the Echo speaker that is most commonly found there.

One natural place for Alexa to live is inside of a car, and BMW has transformed that potential into reality with the announcement that the Alexa voice assistant will be integrated into all new BMW and MINI vehicles beginning in summer 2018.

"By making this step of integrating Alexa into our models from mid-2018, BMW and MINI will form a more intrinsic part of our customers' digital lifestyles," BMW Senior Vice President Dieter May wrote in a statement. "Voice control first featured in BMW Group cars many years ago, and we are now enhancing its functionality by adding a digital ecosystem, which will open up all sorts of new possibilities that customers can access quickly, easily and safely from their car."

As May points out, this isn't the first time BMWs will feature voice control technology -- in fact, it's not even the first time Alexa will be featured in a Bimmer.

Last year, the company introduced compatibility for the personal assistant into its BMW Connected app. Playing music, performing search engine queries and reading weather forecasts were all included in the product's functionality, while third-party integration allowed companies like Domino's and Uber to provide services through in-car Alexa as well.

It's unclear which specific additional services will be included in the forthcoming platform that were not part of the BMW Connected integration, but BMW says that "tens of thousands of Alexa skills that can be accessed from Echo devices will now be available for in-car use, too."

"We are excited to work with BMW to bring the Alexa experience to their drivers," Alexa Automotive Vice President Ned Curic noted in the statement. "Using your voice to enjoy content and interact with Alexa makes a great driving experience even better. We can't wait for BMW customers to try this out."

To those familiar with connected car services, a voice recognition AI assistant is not groundbreaking news.

What is important, however, is the power of brand recognition that comes with the Alexa name. For the average consumer, "voice recognition" can sound a bit vague and off-putting.

"Alexa," on the other hand, signifies a set of services that they are likely to have some experience with. And when it comes to convincing a consumer to try a new in-car product, that can make all the difference.

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