LONDON — Ahead of this week’s Beijing Motor Show, three European car manufacturers have said that they will add Alibaba’s smart voice assistant to smart devices compatible with their connected car apps.

Daimler, Audi, and Volvo car owners in China will be able to use Alibaba’s Tmall Genie voice-controlled assistant to monitor fuel levels, mileage, and engine and battery status, as well as control car doors, windows, and air conditioning from home via voice command. The feature is expected to launch in the near future — Volvo plans to use the Tmall Genie service on its XC90, S90, and XC60 models; Daimler and Audi haven’t yet specified which will implement the voice assistant.

Earlier this year at CES, Alibaba announced a partnership with Mediatek to develop its own smart mesh connectivity solution to support Bluetooth mesh networking. While that announcement was focused on connectivity, Alibaba had already been working with the fabless semiconductor company for its voice assistant, using Mediatek’s MT8516 application processor for audio and microphone processing. The MT8516 integrates a quad-core, 64-bit Arm Cortex-A35 MPCore operating at up to 1.3 GHz and features interfaces such as I2Sx2 (four channels), TDM (up to eight channels), and PDM inputs (two channels) for microphone voice input control and connected audio products.

The automaker partnerships are with Alibaba’s A.I. Labs, its in-house research unit for developing artificial intelligence-powered consumer applications, as part of its IoT initiative. The lab is also working to integrate its AI platform into vehicle operating systems so users will be able to control Tmall Genie-compatible home appliances from their cars. Alibaba said that it would use A.I. Labs’ voiceprint technology to ensure that the devices can only execute commands when activated by the voice of authorized users.

Daimler Concept sketch
Source: Daimler

Daimler also plans to leverage geofencing technology — developed by Alibaba Cloud’s IoT division — to automatically turn on or off lighting, thermostats, and other home appliances when they drive past a designated area near their homes.

Tmall Genie was launched in July 2017 and has sold over 2 million units in China to date. Cars seem to be the next frontier for this service. Market research firm Counterpoint Insights forecasts that more than 125 million connected passenger cars would be shipped between 2018 and 2022, with the market increasing 270%. The report pointed to fast-growing adoption in China as one of the key drivers.

“Cars are an environment, alongside the home and the office, where individuals spend a significant amount of time, and which through connectivity can become an important part of life,” said Lijuan Chen, head of Alibaba A.I. Labs, in a press statement. “Identifying how to serve car users with our smart home assistant Tmall Genie is one of our top priorities.”

— Nitin Dahad is a European correspondent for EE Times.