Just in case there’s a part of your life that’s missing Alexa, Amazon’s speech-enabled virtual assistant, the e-commerce giant plans to rectify that by giving her free reign over another realm: your older vehicle. (This could be good news or bad news depending on how you feel about Alexa.)
This week, Amazon rolled out its Echo Auto for Alexa voice-activated capability in nearly any vehicle, including ones not built “smart.” Echo Auto is an in-car device that can be connected via Bluetooth or plugged into a 3.5-millimeter auxiliary jack. Vehicle owners can also purchase a third-party transmitter to connect and broadcast via an FM frequency. If your vehicle is really old, Echo Auto even comes in the form of a cassette tape adapter. (Think how you can confuse the millennials in your life with that set-up.)
However you choose to connect it – Bluetooth or the latest technology 1975 has to offer – once it’s installed, Echo Auto works like a typical voice-controlled Amazon device. Users can select and play music and audiobooks, use navigation apps and maps, access their calendar functionality, set reminders and even interact with smart home features if the Echo has been linked to your home’s garage door, lights, thermostat and security system.
The device has an eight-microphone array and a cigarette lighter Micro USB cable, and comes with a dashboard mount. For internet connectivity, it piggybacks your smartphone for a connection. Most importantly, it’s been adapted for the interior of a vehicle.
“The car is a much more complicated audio environment,” Amazon SVP Dave Limp told The Verge, noting issues like road noise, in-car entertainment, and air conditioning or heaters that it had to factor in when tuning the Echo Auto’s voice recognition features specifically for cars.
The Verge calls it a “quick fix” that addresses the messy state of in-car infotainment in which automakers, hesitant to cede control of the in-car dashboard to Apple and Google, try to balance proprietary systems with familiar standards (not always successfully). To date, only Toyota, BMW, Ford and Audi have Alexa capability built into new vehicles.
The Echo Auto is available for presale now, and carries a price tag of $49.95, though the company’s offering some early discounts.