“We underestimated the challenge of running Alexa inside a car,” says Miriam Daniel, VP of Alexa and Echo Devices at Amazon, just a day after the launch of Echo Auto in the Indian market. “This is why we spent a year in invite mode, rolling it out to more customers, and learning in the process.”
Daniel says Amazon recognised the need for an Alexa device in the car after seeing people use the Echo Dot in vehicles. “We understood that people wanted to take their podcast to the car, they want to continue the music in the car, or they want to listen to the news in the car,” she says. However, soon they realised that it was a much more challenging proposition.
If the home was challenging, because of the fans, TVs and all these other noises, the car was a “war zone”. It’s a small, closed environment. You want the device to be somewhere close to the driver, but there’s the air from the AC, all the reverberations, the road noise coming in, people talking in close quarters, music blasting in a closed space. All of that was challenging, right?’
Daniel explains that this was why her team took its time to tweak and develop new models for the audience. “We looked at the top 30 best selling cars over the last 10 years and we tested on all of them,” she adds. This is when the Amazon team realised that the Bluetooth stacks on cars are very different and had to tweak to accommodate this.
Plus, you had to deal with different mobile devices and operating systems on which the Alexa had to depend for its connectivity. “So the combination of all of this caused a lot of challenges in trying to build a device that would come into your car and worked just as well as it does in the home,” says Daniel. India is only the second country after the US to get Echo Auto and that posed new challenges. “First, definitely, was stable connectivity. But honestly, there’s not much we can do there. But what we can do is back off gracefully.”
Daniel says the team then wanted to make sure that the geolocation worked well, whenever you are. “Because it’s not just about listening to music, you want to be able to say where’s the nearest coffee shop or petrol pump. So we had to introduce geolocation with local search and the local navigation.” She adds that location and navigation will continue to improve over time. Along with this was the fact that noise levels in the car was higher in india along with the reverberations based on road conditions. “We did quite a bit of road testing in India, and made sure that we tuned our models for that.”
While music is the most used feature on Alexa, inside a car this just gets more dominant and that too for longer durations. Inside cars, users are communicating more with Alexa along with using navigation. While there is sporadic use of news, some are also setting reminders associated with locations, she says.
Daniel worked with Intel in the US for over a decade after graduating from BITS-Pilani. She has been with Amazon for over six years now.
The author is in Las Vegas on the invitation of Lenovo India.