Amazon Races Ahead

Although drivers now have several voice assistants — Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri — at their fingertips, Amazon is making significant headway in the assistant space with several high-profile partnerships and new initiatives. In January, the company launched its Alexa Custom Assistant initiative, announcing that Fiat Chrysler will be the first automaker to use the offering. Amazon even broke into the luxury space with Lamborghini Huracán Evo becoming the first car to use Alexa to control environmental settings. This week, Ford revealed that the assistant will be integrated into 700,000 vehicles by the end of the year. This news comes on top of an announcement Ford made in February that Google’s Android system (and its Assistant) will be integrated into Ford vehicles starting in 2023. As Alexa and Google try to scale their assistants’ presences in cars, it seems some OEMs may be looking at multiple assistants across their vehicle line-ups. 

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Alexa on the Drive

Ford inked a 6-year deal with Amazon that includes integrating Alexa into 700,000 Ford vehicles (including F-150 trucks, the Bronco, and Mustang Mach-E) through its over-the-air software updates by the end of the year. Drivers will be able to use the assistant to get directions, play music, and more. Prior to this deal, drivers had to download an app on their phone to connect to their car’s infotainment system to access Alexa. The deal now reduces the barriers to accessing Amazon’s assistant, and sets the stage for custom Alexa Ford skills in the future. For the first three years of use, Ford will provide drivers with free internet connectivity that enables Alexa, but will likely charge for it thereafter. This strategy is emblematic of automakers working to shift their business model from one-off sales to ongoing digital services for drivers and passengers, and also extends into commercial fleets where Amazon and Ford also plan to collaborate. More on Bloomberg

The New Generation

Amazon recently unveiled the new generation of Echo Show smart displays: the Echo Show 8, Echo Show 5, and kids version of the Echo Show 5. The new devices look relatively the same as the previous editions, but they include higher quality cameras. The Echo Show 8 camera, with its larger field of view, can now pan to keep the user focused in the frame as they’re moving around a room. Additionally, an optional feature starts a routine when the camera detects if someone walks into the room. As the popularity of smart displays continues to rise, Amazon is looking to ensure that its Echo devices are staples in the smart home. More on The Verge

Celebrity Cloning

AI company Veritone unveiled a new platform for celebrities, influencers, and content creators to create and license audio deepfakes of their own voices. Marvel.AI seeks to replace the time-consuming process of recording clips in a studio. By generating realistic clones of their voices, people can monetize their audio clips and place them in ads, audiobooks, and more. As voice synthesis technology evolves (even bringing back the vocals of deceased celebrities), voice experiences can benefit from more realistic and recognizable voices without the need to custom-record voice talent. However, this nascent space carries major ethical concerns around authorized vs. unauthorized uses, and potential for misuse and fraud. More on Gizmodo 

Emerging Tech Stories

  • Wardrobe Update. Walmart bought Zeekit, a startup that provides virtual clothing try-on for online shoppers, to provide virtual fitting rooms for its own clothing brands.
  • Voice Reveal.Author Brad Stone reported that Nina Rolle, a voiceover artist from Colorado, is the voice behind Amazon Alexa.
  • Smart Scroll. Xiaomi patented a design for a cylindrical hybrid phone/speaker device that has a roll-out screen.

By The Numbers

$37.8 Billion The value that the global smart speaker market is expected to reach by 2026, up from $15.6 billion in 2020. (data via ResearchandMarkets)

49% of people who work from home own a smart speaker.
data via Edison Research & Triton Digital)