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Alexa, Siri, Google: What voice assistants do in the car

With such a model from Anker (ROAV Viva) you can, for example, bring Alexa into the car
Photo: Anker A few words are enough and the music gets louder. Or you can jump to the next song with a casual command. And one sentence is enough to get the navigation system on course. Voice control should support the person behind the wheel and make driving safer.

In Apple's iPhones, for example, there is the voice assistant Siri, in cell phones with Android Google's Assistant. The latter is also part of Android Auto on some vehicles. And via the Bluetooth adapter Echo Auto (around 60 euros), Amazon connects its Alexa in the vehicle to smartphones. An active internet connection is important for all assistants. Siri and Echo Auto must always be online, the Google Assistant, on the other hand, continues to work even with short dead spots. But what do you do with voice assistants in the car?

Assistance systems that are designed to be less of a distraction for the driver

With such a model from Anker (ROAV Viva) you can, for example, bring Alexa into the car
Photo: Anker "They are suitable as assistance systems because they are less distracting to the driver than manual operation, and they are more convenient," says Nathalie Teer from the IT industry association Bitkom. Because functions can be controlled by voice without looking at the display or touching a button.

And what do you need? "A smartphone in the car is sufficient for this, ideally when it is connected to the speakers in the car with Bluetooth or a cable," explains Teer. A good holder for the cell phone, which should not be attached too far away from the driver because of possible interference, and the correct setting for receiving voice commands are also decisive.

With Apple Carplay or Android Auto, newer vehicles often offer a stronger integration of smartphones into the car. Means: If you call up certain apps on the phone, they can also be seen and controlled on the vehicle display, which further simplifies operation. "The assistants are helpful and recommendable for all drivers," says Nathalie Teer. Their car-related use can be implemented quickly and, on top of that, inexpensive.

Advantageous: Activate voice control by pressing a button

If voice commands are not recognized immediately, for example because of driving noises, a second attempt often helps, but sometimes just parking. Under no circumstances should one be distracted from driving by operating problems with the assistant, warns Teer. That would be counterproductive. After all, the helpers are there so that you can concentrate better on the traffic.

Before deciding on a system, it is worth trying out different ones, depending on your own smartphone and its operating system, advises auto electronics specialist Michael Zeitler, who runs a specialist retailer in Cologne. "It is advantageous if the voice control can be activated with a button." Then it will not be called up accidentally.

Basically, the smartphone should be linked to the car radio so that the driver can communicate with the device via the hands-free system, for example. Alternative: "With high-quality headsets, drivers can also use the voice assistant," says Zeitler.

Study: 49 percent of those surveyed use assistants in vehicles

Regardless of whether it is about playing or streaming music, about appointments in the calendar, phone calls, navigation or a note function: voice assistants in the car are becoming more popular. In a 2019 study by the Capgemini Research Institute, almost half (49 percent) of those surveyed stated that they already use a voice assistant in their vehicle, of which a good three-quarters (77 percent) were to play music.

For Markus Winkler, automotive expert at the management consultancy Capgemini, the decisive factor for voice assistants is how strongly the system is integrated into the vehicle and its digital ecosystem. "When buying a car, voice assistants initially play a subordinate role; this only becomes evident in everyday operation," he says. Such assistants are often used by those drivers who also control devices with voice at home, says Winkler. "Depending on the manufacturer, the integration of the voice assistant is still in its infancy." Some only offer a connection via smartphone, others already deeply integrated systems with which other vehicle functions can be operated.

"In the future, voice assistants will be more intelligent and be able to do more tasks," says Winkler. "To do this, the systems have to be merged with the vehicle." Adjustment is also important because many expect the same voice control in the car as on their smartphone.

What are the manufacturers doing?

Volvo's electrical brand Polestar, for example, relies on Android, with which many functions can be operated by voice. The Fiat-Chrysler-Automobiles group with its brands such as Fiat, Ferrari, Jeep, Chrysler and Dodge also relies on Android Auto.

Amazon Alexa is integrated in newer vehicles from BMW, as well as in cars from Seat. Mercedes vehicles can do some tasks with the help of their own Mbux system with "Hey Mercedes". Mbux is available as an option and costs over 1000 euros extra in the package for the A-Class.

The iPhone version of the Waze navigation app has support for the Apple CarPlay dashboard. The app also offers warnings about "danger spots". You can read more on the subject in another news item.