GM announced today that it is partnering with Google to have built-in versions of Google Assistant — the one activated when you say, “Hey, Google” — in its vehicle infotainment systems. It also will use Google Maps for navigation and let drivers pick auto-approved Android apps from the Google Play Store, all without requiring a smartphone. The tech will begin rolling out on GM vehicles in 2021.
GM’s integration of such technologies builds on a new version of Google’s Android automotive operating system, which has been powering in-car infotainment systems. The OS, which GM has reportedly used in a more basic form since 2016, is not to be confused with the more common Android Auto app that connects a smartphone to the dashboard display. GM says its research shows that many owners prefer such capabilities as part of the vehicle’s integrated system and not requiring a phone.
The tie-up with the largest U.S. automaker is a win for Google as it competes with other tech giants, such as Amazon and Apple, for a presence in vehicles. And it lets GM meet consumer demand for familiar technology in cars similar to what they already use on their phones and in their homes. GM told Reuters, however, that it also will continue to offer smartphone-based Android Auto, as well as Apple CarPlay, in the cars.
Volvo also is shifting to the new Android OS-based infotainment systems, and the 2020 Polestar 2 from its electric performance brand is the first car to showcase such embedded technology as Google Assistant, Google Maps and Google Play Store apps. Other automakers are moving to include similar functions, though strategies differ. Mercedes-Benz, for example, developed its own “Hey, Mercedes” artificial intelligence assistant, which debuted on the new A-Class sedan. BMW has its own assistant and is also integrating Amazon Alexa.
GM says more specifics will become available later. It also notes that “additional services and data may be required,” which could mean additional costs or subscriptions. The new Google Android services for GM cars will include:
Voice Assistant: Similar to Google’s smart speaker and Android phone app, the AI Google Assistant lets drivers converse with the car to get things done. GM says that includes making a call or text, controlling audio sources and playlists, commanding vehicle systems such as climate and even talking to your smart-home devices from the road.
Navigation: The system uses Google Maps with its regular updating, real-time traffic data and other features. Plus, working with Google Assistant, it lets drivers use their voice to navigate and gather information about destinations, such as store hours.
Apps: The Google Play Store offers familiar apps and services designed for in-vehicle use.
It’s worth pointing out that such services, particularly AI voice assistants, have raised privacy concerns regarding use of data and recordings collected, and vehicle-specific issues may need to be addressed. Patrick Brady, Google’s vice president of engineering, told Reuters that the issue of harvesting and monetizing data is “blown out of proportion” when it comes to cars and said Google will not have access to an individual’s driving or other vehicle data. Santiago Chamorro, GM’s VP of global connected customer experience, told CNBC that GM will continue to manage data collected “in a very transparent way” and “in an anonymous way.”
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