Alibaba gets its digital assistant into Chinese vehicles

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. is getting its digital assistant into Mercedes-Benzes, Audis and Volvos in China, enlisting a clutch of global automakers in an effort to popularize the year-old technology for everything from shopping to home security.

Daimler AG, Volkswagen AG and Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co.’s Volvo join some 100 brands Alibaba says it’s partnered with. The Chinese e-commerce giant has so far sold more than 2 million speakers featuring Tmall Genie, a digital assistant modeled on Amazon’s Alexa that offers voice-controlled services from music streaming to newscasts and calendar-booking.

Digital speakers and devices powered by virtual assistants have become one of the hottest consumer products of past years. Apple Inc. debuted its Siri-controlled HomePod this year, Google has launched its Home speaker and Amazon.com Inc. has been churning out Alexa-powered devices for years. Alibaba’s gadget — powered by the AliGenie system — may eventually simplify shopping for its 450 million-plus users.

Benzes, Audis and Volvos are among the most popular luxury car brands in China, the world’s biggest auto market. Alibaba will connect drivers with Tmall Genie or their smart speakers at home so they can, for instance, check that doors and windows are closed and locked and that vehicle parts such as the battery are in good condition. Drivers can also perform simple in-car tasks such as turning on the air-conditioning or planning a route. Alibaba’s AI Labs is now working on integrating the AliGenie platform more deeply into vehicles’ operating software, to support voice commands, navigation and entertainment features in future.

“Identifying how to serve car users with Tmall Genie’s skill sets is one of our top priorities,” Lijuan Chen, head of Alibaba AI Labs, said in an emailed statement.

Now read: Alibaba-backed carmaker to challenge Tesla

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Alibaba gets its digital assistant into Chinese vehicles