The smart assistant battlefield is quickly expanding to the future of cars


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AI has been a major buzzword for well over a decade now, so picking it out as a distinct 2016 phenomenon wouldn't be justifiably be any measure. However, there is no denying that the field has really been flourishing as of late, hence the influx of increasingly better and smarter personal assistants and automation platforms.

Cortana, Siri, Google Now, Assistant and Home, Amazon Echo and the Alexa platform - one of the next major tech battlefields is already busy trekking rapidly through the obligatory proprietary development stage. But now that our computers, phones and homes are smarter, at least in theory, that is, cars seem like the next prime candidate for some AI love.

It is a fair observation to say that most major car manufacturers are knee-deep in the self-driving and autonomous aspects of future car ownership. But CES 2017 made it clear that traditional players in the AI realm, like Microsoft and Amazon also have some big plans involving our 4-wheeled companions.

Kicking things off with "Mister Softee", the Redmond giant took to the Las Vegas venue to unveil a spin-off of its popular Azure cloud platform, geared towards car manufacturers. The system in question is titles the Microsoft Connected Vehicle Platform and it is not exactly an end-user product. Rather, what Microsoft is trying to do is adapt its powerful cloud infrastructure and provide an environment and set of tools, which car manufacturers and third parties can then utilize to bring smarts to a given car experience. As EVP for Business Development Peggy Johnson put it:

This is not an in-car operating system or a finished product … It's a living, agile platform that starts with the cloud as the foundation.

You can probably imagine that these smarts will come with a distinct Microsoft flavor.The Connected Vehicle Platform will be infused with things like Cortana, Office 365 and Skype for Business. The Renault-Nissan group will likely be the first to bring this tech to drivers, as further evident by their involvement during the on-stage demonstrations. According to Microsoft, Toyota, Volvo and BMW have expressed interest in the technology as well.

Moving from the realm of future possibility to the much more tangible Amazon Alexa platform. It was one of the first to really shine in the smart assistant/connected tech/automation niche and still ranks among the best. At CES 2017, Volkswagen announced its plans to bring Alexa's vocal powers to future car models. The idea really seems much more feasible in the short term - integrate the internet-fueled assistant in a connected car and then have it answer questions, play and control music, relay notifications - basically what Alexa is already very good at thanks to strong third-party support. To complement the car part of the experience, the system will likely be able to read, monitor and possibly report remotely important data, like locations, speed, fluid levels and diagnostic reports. Perhaps even book in-shop appointments and order spare parts for itself. Ford is, allegedly, next in line for a similar Amazon partnership.

All things considered, you might want to hold off on offers like Apple's Car Play or Android Auto, as compromises for a smart car experiences and possibly wait things out as the industry tackles the problem head on.

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