Edge of Innovation

CES 2017: Was Amazon’s Alexa the star of the show?

Dean Evans Technology Writer Twitter

There was some terrific technology at CES 2017 — the LG W-series 4K OLED TV, so thin it can only be wall-mounted; Aira’s smart glasses for the blind; Toyota’s futuristic Concept-I car. But perhaps the real star of the show was Alexa. Not the app itself, or its growing set of skills. But how Amazon’s intelligent personal assistant is now moving beyond the Echo and starting a war.

Alexa popped up in a number of unexpected places at CES, from robots to fridges. You’ll find it in the Lynx, a humanoid robot from UBTech, and the LG Hub Robot. It’s an intriguing match-up, allowing bot-builders to concentrate on the mechanics of movement and facial recognition, while Alexa provides the digital smarts.

Read: CES 2017: Robots like Kuri, Lynx and Olly turn heads (literally)

Just before CES 2017, GE unveiled an LED table lamp with Alexa inside. It could herald the beginning of a smart home revolution. As Jeff Patton, General Manager Connected Home Products, GE Lighting explains, devices like the GE lamp allow people “to add smart capabilities throughout the home through a really simple form factor. Consumers don’t need a cell phone, a special switch or a hub. They just need their voice.”

Alexa might also have a role to play beyond tabletop devices. At CES 2017, Whirlpool announced that Amazon’s intelligent personal assistant technology will be baked into some of its future washer dryers, ovens and fridges. All in the pursuit of hands-free convenience.

In addition to Alexa’s core skills, consumers will ultimately be able to pause and start compatible washing machines with voice commands; set, start and stop oven timers; and ask for current refrigerator temperatures. The Whirlpool skill will be available this year. Some of the company’s appliances already come with Amazon Dash built-in, enabling them to order more detergent when you’re running low.

LG Instaview Amazon Alexa
LG’s new InstaView fridges will come with Amazon Alexa inside.

It’s not the only appliance to use Alexa. LG’s new InstaView fridges will also feature the voice technology, allowing owners to “search recipes, add any ingredients they’re missing to a shopping list, place orders from Amazon.com, and even control smart home products by enabling Alexa skills.”

Alexa, it seems, isn’t just destined for the smart home. Ford used CES 2017 to announce that it would be integrating it into vehicles equipped with the Sync 3 entertainment system. This means that drivers will be able to issue voice commands to read audiobooks, get news bulletins, play music, even control aspects of a smart house (like lighting) as they drive home.

Ford isn’t the only car maker to embrace Alexa. VW announced that it will be using the technology with its Car-Net system, while Hyundai will support it via the Blue Link connected car app. Not only will drivers be able to use exising Alexa skills, but they’ll be able to start the engine and set the temperature by voice before they go outside.

The more you see the different ways that Alexa can be used, the more you begin to appreciate that personal assistant technologies will have a huge role to play in a smart, connected future. But while Amazon’s voice services might be first out of the gate, you can bet that its rivals won’t be far behind.

There’s a technology war brewing, a battle for voice control that the likes of Google Assistant, Viv, Cortana and Siri won’t want to lose. You can see it already — Nissan and BMW have chosen Cortana for their cars, while the Nvidia Spot makes Google Assistant available around the home. This might be the year that voice control finally goes mainstream.

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