Let’s Talk Navigation: An Interview between Nagendra Kumar Lavu, Head of Product for Navigation for Alexa Auto and Arianne Walker, Chief Evangelist for Alexa Auto

Arianne Walker Jul 22, 2020
Automotive Vehicles

Walker: Before we get into details around navigation, can you describe how Alexa supports customers in the car?

Lavu: Alexa is designed to offer a voice-first, cloud connected, personalized and hands-free experience for our customers across all Alexa enabled devices – at home, in car and on the go. In the car, navigation and search for local business information are two of the most important daily needs for customers.

Walker: Tell me more about the voice-first navigation experience in the car.             

Lavu: Instead of the customer trying to input a destination manually into the car’s navigation system – which may involve navigating menus and typing the full name or address – customers can simply say, “Alexa, take me to the Golden Gate Bridge.” If customers want to change their destination, they don’t have to juggle between driving and screen taps. Alexa helps customers get directions to specific business locations or points-of-interest, street addresses, intersections, cities or neighborhoods and starts the turn-by-turn navigation.

Walker: How does this experience continue throughout the drive?

Lavu: Our goal is to make the entire experience a voice-first experience including the first mile, middle mile and the last mile. For example, you can say, “Alexa how far is San Diego from here?” and Alexa can help you understand how long the trip will take and how far away it is from your current location. Alexa can help find alternate routes or seek traffic information along the way when you say something like, “Alexa, how is the traffic on I-5 South?” Depending on the integration, Alexa can also allow customers to interact with the map by asking her to zoom in or out or re-center the map. If the customer is in an unfamiliar area and wants to know about upcoming turns or exits, it is as simple as saying, “Alexa, what exit should I take to get to Downtown San Jose?” Customers can even add a stop along the way, by saying things like, “Alexa, add Costco as a stop on way to Home.”      

Walker: Can you tell me more about how customers can search along their route?

Lavu: You can search for destinations by asking Alexa to take you to different types of locations. For example, if a customer says, “Alexa, find nearby coffee shops along the way,” Alexa will provide a list (both visually and through voice guidance, depending on the integration) of coffee shops that are geographically closest to the current location. The customer can then narrow down to a desired destination by asking qualifying questions and then saying “Alexa, take me there,” or “Alexa, navigate me to the third one,” or “Alexa, add the second one to the route.” In addition, you can ask Alexa to find parking, gas stations, or charging destinations along the route or near the final destination “Alexa, find me a Whole Foods close to home.”

Walker: What happens when customers are driving in an area with limited or no internet connectivity?      

Lavu: We are also enabling many of the navigation features we’ve discussed even when customers don’t have connectivity to the cloud. Although cellular connectivity coverage has improved over past few years, connectivity challenges can occur due to patches of intermittent connectivity while driving in dense urban areas, in parking garages, or in rural areas and highways where there may not be any connectivity. Integrations that take advantage of the Alexa Auto SDK with the Local Voice Control extension provide access to Alexa locally on the dashboard – with no internet connectivity required. In situations where a sufficient, low-latency internet connection is available, Alexa will bias toward data from the cloud as it is always up to date. In cases where connectivity is intermittent or slow, Alexa will arbitrate between the local and cloud to provide the best results in the shortest amount of time. In cases where internet connectivity is not available, Alexa will use the Local Voice Control to provide a response. The end result is a more available, more robust, and more reliable Alexa experience in the vehicle. Customers can say “Alexa, take me to San Francisco airport” from inside a parking garage with no signal, and Alexa starts the vehicle’s on-board navigation system to provide the turn-by-turn directions.

Walker: How is Alexa Auto team able to build and deliver the above experiences to end customers?

Lavu: Amazon has collaborated with car manufacturers, navigation suppliers, and device manufacturers to voice enable the entire navigation experience from finding a destination, helping customers understand the route, answering their questions about a commute, and even helping them transition between different devices and modes of transportation. By working with some of the best navigation providers in the industry such as HERE, Telenav and TomTom, the Alexa Auto team respects the strong loyalty customers have to embedded in-car navigation solutions and enables customers to fully use voice to control those navigation experiences.

Walker: COVID-19 is on everyone’s mind right now. How has Alexa helped customers in their cars during this challenging time?

Lavu:  More broadly, we have worked to help our customers during this time and you can see those details on our Day One Blog.  While stay at home orders have recently kept many people at home, there are plenty of people that have had to be on the go, and as states and countries reopen, Alexa is there to support customers. One of the ways Alexa is supporting our customers on the go during this unusual time is by helping to find places of business in their local area, providing the special hours of operation for businesses, and allowing customers to call those locations directly – including local testing sites and state hotlines.

Walker:  As we think a little longer term, what are some key future mobility trends you see for Alexa?

Lavu: Our vision is to make Alexa the most trusted personal mobility assistant for our customers with the best reliability, by providing accurate information and building delightful and connected experiences that work at all times, across all devices and all geographies. We are thinking about this around these key areas:

1.       Connected Mobility: We understand more and more devices are getting connected and a typical Alexa user has multiple connected devices at home, in car and on-the-go. We recognize that the trip planning starts in the home before you leave your front door. Before leaving the house, customers can ask Alexa directions/traffic and then send directions to their phone or car. Once the customer gets in the car, the turn-by-turn directions are automatically started for the destination. Customers driving in a car can ask Alexa for parking suggestions. Once parked, they can continue the experience on Echo Buds or the Alexa App by asking Alexa walking or biking directions to the final destination. With this, Alexa helps customers travel door-to-door through a variety of commuter modes including driving, walking, and biking directions.              

2.       Urban Mobility:  We also understand emerging and increasing modes of commute especially in urban areas such as public transit using trains and buses, ride sharing/carpool and electric scooters.  Some of these new modes of urban mobility are already supported today by Alexa third-party skills such as Uber, Lyft, MTA, London Travel, and Navitime. 

3.       Personalization: We want to build personalized experiences for our customers taking into account their favorite destinations, places to eat, preferred routes, gas stations, etc. We want Alexa to become more intelligent, anticipate customer needs in-car during the trip and pro-actively notify the customers about accidents/delays/road closures along the way or pro-actively recommend parking or gas stations taking into account multiple signals such as the destination type, route being navigated, location context, fuel levels in the car and build engaging in-car experiences. For an example of this, you can see a demonstration from the floor of CES2020.

Walker: Before I let you go, what can you tell us about any new features coming out this year?

Lavu: There is one thing I can share. That feature we announced about sending directions from home to your phone will allow customers to send directions from their home directly to their car later this year, so you don’t need to have your phone out, or even with you.   

Click here to learn more about Alexa for the car.

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