Caixin
Apr 24, 2018 04:45 AM
BUSINESS & TECH

Alibaba Links Up With Auto Companies to Make Cars Smarter

Alibaba is among global tech giants rushing into voice assistant systems to gain competitive edge in the AI era. Photo: VCG
Alibaba is among global tech giants rushing into voice assistant systems to gain competitive edge in the AI era. Photo: VCG

*Alibaba is aiming to gain a new competitive edge in AI via the partnerships with the automakers

*Smart speakers and voice-based AI systems are expected to become a ubiquitous part of daily life

What can we expect from a smart speaker in addition to playing music, reading news and reporting weather? Maybe, activating your car.

Chinese tech giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. is working with three leading automakers to enable future cars to accept remote voice commands sent by drivers through smart speakers.

The three are Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volvo. They became the first car brands to agree to integrate Alibaba’s voice-activated assistant Tmall Genie into cars. The technology will enable owners to control vehicles from home by talking to a smart speaker. Alibaba’s Tmall Genie is one of the most popular smart speakers sold in China, similar to Amazon’s Echo and Apple’s HomePod.

The partnerships reflect Alibaba’s ambition to expand the presence of its voice assistant technology beyond the home and move ahead in the tech race to connect everything with the internet.

With Alibaba’s voice system, car owners will be able to monitor fuel levels and mileage and control car doors, windows and air conditioning from home via voice command, according to Qian Xue, research head of Alibaba’s artificial intelligence division AI Labs.

A Volvo executive said the company will gradually embed the Tmall Genie system in future products, including the XC90, S90 and XC6 models. Mercedes-Benz said it will adopt Tmall Genie in cars equipped with its new generation automobile control system. Audi said it is also working with Alibaba to roll out products quickly.

Qian said the earliest models equipped with Tmall Genie system can be expected as soon as June.

All three carmakers have been eyeing opportunities in the burgeoning smart car market in China. The nation is counting on new technology to revolutionize its automobile industry and gain global competitiveness. Volvo has set up a partnership with Alibaba to jointly develop voice-control and navigation systems for automobiles. Mercedes-Benz and Audi have also worked with local partners in researching smart car-related businesses.

Alibaba is aiming to gain a new competitive edge in AI via the partnerships with the automakers. By connecting its smart speaker with cars, Alibaba hopes to introduce more services from e-commerce, entertainment and local services to auto passengers, Qian said.

Global tech giants are rushing into the market with smart speakers and voice-based AI systems, which are expected to become a ubiquitous part of daily life and the hub for people to control all kinds of smart devices from televisions and air conditioners to automobiles by voice command.

The market analysis concern Strategy Analytics predicted that the smart speaker market will grow to $5.5 billion by 2022 from about $1.5 billion 2017. By 2022, 33% of families in North America will be equipped with smart speakers, compared with current 7%.

Alibaba’s domestic rivals including e-commerce company JD.com, search giant Baidu Inc. and messaging service provider Tencent Holdings Ltd. have also released voice-activated digital speaker products.

Contact reporter Han Wei (weihan@caixin.com)

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