Drive Safe And In Control With This Dash Cam

In principle, modern voice assistant programs are supposed to go with you everywhere — as long as you always wear pants when you leave the house, integration of the service in both smartphones and home speakers ought to be enough to keep you covered. The car, however, is one space where your smartphone will always be hard-pressed to keep you in reach of such services, since it’s illegal to check your phone while driving. Dashboard stands and speaker products can help, but only partially, and only for users of phone-based assistants like Siri, Cortana, and Google Now. A better solution, especially for the millions already bought in to the Amazon Alexa assistant ecosystem, is to install a peripheral in your car that can make your voice assistant as accessible in the car as it is at home — and to do so permanently.

Garmin’s Speak Plus is such an expansion product, bringing Alexa into your vehicle with a compact unit that also offers helpful features for regular driving. By making use of Alexa skills, users can control their Alexa-connected smart home devices right from the driver’s seat, starting lengthy processes like heating or cooling the house, or preheating the oven, while still on the way home.

Beyond acting as a hands-free option to control Alexa via your smartphone’s data connection, it also gives you access to a convenient, low-powered dash cam. The Garmin Speak Plus also uses the built-in camera to watch out for imminent forward collisions and lane drifting. Unlike many in-car devices, this product can provide turn-by-turn GPS-based directions to a destination as you drive. Simply use the command, “Alexa, ask Garmin,” and then your desired destination.

In terms of audio, the Speak Plus can use either Bluetooth or an aux connection to play through your existing car stereo, so you don’t have to listen to your favorite album on a tiny, built-in speaker in the unit itself. It integrates with most free and paid media streaming apps (Spotify compatibility coming soon), including Amazon’s Prime Music, either via an aux cable or a Bluetooth wireless connection to your smartphone.

Between its abilities as an enabler of voice assistants and as a more typical dash cam device, the Garmin Speak Plus is a great addition to any car owner’s toolbox. It doesn’t just bring hands-free AI functionality to the car, but also greatly expands Alexa’s mobility, making it potentially far more useful, overall

Meanwhile, just two percent said they “definitely would not” want the same assistant in their car, and only nine percent said they “probably would not”. The remaining 13 percent said they did not know. All respondents owned a car and used a home-based voice assistant, such as Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and the Google Assistant.

This makes unfortunate reading for car manufacturers, who are pumping money into creating voice assistants of their own. BMW began offering its own voice system in the new X5 SUV in early 2019, and a number of third-parties are also invested in creating new assistants for the road, including Nuance, which GearBrain tried out earlier this year. Mercedes has also created its own voice system to rival Alexa and others.

Many car manufacturers have offered voice control for years, but the systems have had a near-universally poor reputation among drivers. They often struggle to understand what is being said, and offer far fewer features than systems like Alexa and Google Assistant.

However, home-based assistants are starting to appear in cars. They can be added via a third-party accessory plugged into the lighter or USB socket, like the $50 Amazon Echo Auto, which is currently open for pre-order. Some car companies are looking to natively add assistants to future vehicles. For example, the upcoming Polestar 2 runs its entire in-car system on Android, which means the Google Assistant works on the road exactly as it does at home.

The benefits of using the same system at home and in the car are obvious. Two-thirds of respondents to the JD Power survey said already knowing how to use the system would be a benefit, while 57 percent said how their preferences would already be known by the assistant, and 49 percent looked forward to a “seamless experience.”

A third believed these assistants would offer better accuracy than the current car manufacturer offerings, and 28 percent said the assistants would be more useful than what is currently available from most automakers.

One respondent said of their current car voice system: “I can never remember the specific command terms required. I would like more natural and organic command flexibility like I have in my [Amazon] Echo.”

Amazon will be hoping it can use the findings of this survey to convince car makers to let it install the Alexa voice assistant, replacing what is currently offered. Currently, Audi, BMW, Ford and Toyota are among just a few automakers who have said they will offer Alexa as an option, but not on every model.

f Alexa, Siri and the Google Assistant were available in the car, they could be used to interact with the navigation system, play music and the radio, make calls, read and respond to incoming messages, check the weather forecast, and perhaps even control certain vehicle functions, like the climate system.

They could also be used to interact with smart home devices, switching the driveway lights on as you approach your street, or checking that you remembered to turn the heating off when you left home. Being able to control smart devices from behind the wheel would give drivers the ability to pre-heat their oven when they’re a few minutes away, or broadcast an audio message to their family via Amazon Echo smart speakers.

JD Power said of the survey: “Consumers will increasingly expect in-car voices to seamlessly connect infotainment features with the connected car functionality, in part because they expect a consistent experience with the voice service whether they are in the car, in the home, or anywhere else…Bringing this functionality together with one voice service is important for that positive consumer experience, bolstering the experience with the car as well.”

Offering a voice assistant to buyers that they already know should help drive car sales, too. The survey found 59 percent of U.S. adults are more likely to buy from a certain car company if the in-home assistant they’re familiar with is available. This jumps to 74 percent for Gen Y car buyers and 79 percent for Gen Z, demonstrating how offering the right voice service can be hugely influential over the purchasing decision of younger drivers.

But, as owners of the Sonos One smart speaker will be all-too familiar, offering more than one assistant in a single device is tricky. The speaker launched in late-2017 with Alexa and a promise that the Google Assistant would be added. Over a year later, buyers are still waiting. It is likely hat car manufacturers would pick which assistant to offer, unless they opt to have the vehicle controlled by a voice assistant app on the driver’s smartphone, similar to how Apple CarPlay and Android Auto work today.

(Check out The GearBrain, our smart home compatibility checker to see the other compatible products that work with Google Home and Home Mini as well as Amazon Alexa enabled devices.)

A decade ago, if an automotive engineer talked about a car’s ‘human-machine interface’, they would likely have been laughed from the room. That’s changed as artificial intelligence has advanced, particularly inside self-driving cars.

Until recently, a car’s ‘interface’ meant simply a few things: the location, feel and movement of the steering wheel, pedals and switchgear like indicator stalks, dials for the lights, and buttons for the radio. Car makers had a near-universal global standard for these features, with the only difference within their design language

Now carmakers face challenges on multiple fronts. First, consumers with smartphones in their pockets want the same attractive user interface and responsive, high definition touch screen on their dashboard. They also want apps, connectivity, and a virtual assistant like Alexa and Siri.

As the use of autonomous driving technology grow, drivers also want (and absolutely need) a clear, simple way for understanding who is in control of the vehicle.

These changes are unprecedented in the history of the automobile and bring with them a set of unique challenges.


To help uncover the difficulties car manufacturers face, GearBrain spoke to Adam Emfield, the principal user experience manager and head of Drive Lab at Nuance Communications. Headquartered in Burlington, Massachusetts, Nuance provides AI systems to many of the world’s major car makers.

“Automakers are facing a fundamental shift in how they approach vehicle design for a rapidly-changing market,” Emfield says. “While connected cars have been popular for a number of years, all-new design paradigms need to be considered for electric cars, semi and fully autonomous vehicles, and shared mobility. Drivers see the in-car technology as increasingly important to buying decisions. As such, the human machine interface has taken center stage.”

Where before we had a fuel gauge, now electric cars offer up screens of data on battery use and projected range — to help ease range anxiety, if nothing else — and hybrid vehicles show if the engine or battery is being used, and if any energy regeneration is taking place.

Then there are the autonomous systems like Tesla Autopilot, Nissan ProPilot and Mercedes Drive Pilot, and how a car which is not owned by any one person — the “shared mobility” Emfield mentions – should look and behave.

Autonomous systems are of particular interest, and concern. How best to tell the driver, without any doubt, that they are in control of the vehicle, or that it is in control and needs no assistance?


“A number of high-profile semi-autonomous vehicle crashes have raised questions about driver and vehicle safety,” Emfield says. “Trust, or lack thereof, is one of the biggest challenges for the success of partially and fully autonomous vehicles.”

Indeed, following the death of a pedestrian struck by an autonomous Uber car in March, and the death of a Tesla driver just a few weeks later, trust in self-driving vehicles fell sharply. A survey conducted by AAA in May found that 73 percent of American drivers said they would be too afraid to ride in a fully autonomous vehicle, up significantly from 63 percent in December 2017, just five months earlier. The motor club also found that just 19 percent of drivers would fully trust an autonomous car.

Suggesting how an intelligent assistant can help, Emfield explains: “This requires the automotive assistant to have a relationship built on trust with the driver — or rather, passenger. It requires an assistant that gives the passenger peace of mind, keeping them in the loop, answering questions about car status and why the assistant made a choice, and helping them feel like they remain in control.”

The need for passengers to feel like they remain in control is interesting, as manufacturers have not been shy in suggesting how much we will soon be able to disengage from the act of driving. When launching its new A8 luxury sedan in July 2017, Audi said that, once made legal, the car’s autonomous systems will allow the driver to “take their hands off the steering wheel permanently and, depending on the national laws, focus on a different activity that is supported by the car, such as watching the on-board TV.”

rust can be gained, Emfield says, by encouraging drivers to have spoken conversations with their cars. Research carried out by Nuance, he says, “provides strong anecdotal and scientific evidence that ‘speech-induced anthropomorphism – that is, a car being perceived as having human-like traits through conversation and speech – is an essential factor for obtaining trust.

“Simply put, when a car talks, it instills a feeling in drivers and passengers that it’s more like a human being. This is one reason automakers are keen to leverage well-designed, voice-enabled automotive assistants in their cars.”

This is exactly what is happening, as a number of car makers look to install Alexa and Google Assistant in their vehicles. BMW, Mini, Toyota, Ford and Volkswagen have all expressed interest in bringing Alexa to their cars, some as soon as this year.

Emfield added: “The research also found that trust increases when the ‘transfer of control’ between the car and driver is enabled not only by speech/voice command, but also via visual, auditory and haptic cues.”

You might think voice assistants, autonomy and haptic touch screen controls are enough for the century-old automotive industry to be getting on with, but the future will likely take things much further.

Emfield explains: “The industry is already moving towards next-generation interfaces that go beyond voice-enabled assistants, becoming multi-model assistants that leverage eye tracking, gestures, and other technologies that detect even the little things, like non-verbal cues, like another human would. Think about what new opportunities this opens for the drivers – and passengers – of cars in the future.”

Check out The GearBrain, our smart home compatibility checker to see the other compatible products that work with smart speakers like Google Home and Home Mini as well as other compatible products that work with Amazon Alexa smart speaker assistant.

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