Amazon’s second-gen Echo Auto get smaller and adds roadside assistance

Amazon released Wednesday the second-generation version of Echo Auto, a smaller and slicker device aimed to broaden the e-commerce giant’s reach by bringing its Alexa voice assistant into more vehicles.

Echo Auto, which first came to market in 2018, connects to a vehicle’s infotainment system to bring the Alexa assistant into the vehicle. A driver can either plug the device into the vehicle’s auxiliary port or via a smartphone’s Bluetooth connection and the Alexa app.

The most notable changes in the second-generation version, which costs $54.99, is its smaller size and slicker styling as well as a new adhesive mount to allow drivers some flexibility in where they might want to secure the device.

Amazon second generation Echo Auto

Image Credits: Amazon

The Echo Auto now has five microphones to ensure a driver’s request is heard over typical background road noise or even music, according to Amazon. It also comes with a Quick Charge 3.0 certified adapter that can be used to fast charge a phone.

On the feature front, Amazon has added roadside assistance to Alexa, which means it’s also coming to Echo Auto. Users can say “Alexa, call Roadside Assistance,” to connect with an agent who will request help on a driver or passengers’ behalf for problems such as a running out of gas or a flat tire.

Users can also turn their smartphone into a driver friendly display via a feature called Auto Mode, which is launched via the Alexa app on their smartphone. Auto Mode isn’t new — it was first talked about two years ago — but it’s sticking around for good reason. 

Amazon wants to offer another option to owners of older vehicles that lack the higher resolution and larger displays commonly found in new models. And it shows that Amazon is keen to capture the entire vehicle marketplace not simply via automaker partnerships in which Alexa is embedded technology in the car.

Amazon’s second-gen Echo Auto get smaller and adds roadside assistance by Kirsten Korosec originally published on TechCrunch

Amazon Alexa and Echo Auto can now call for roadside assistance

Amazon today announced a new feature for U.S. drivers who may need assistance while on the road — like if they get a flat tire or run out of gas, for instance. At its annual hardware event, the company introduced a service called Amazon Roadside Assistance, accessible from the Alexa app, or via Echo Auto or other Echo devices.

In the event that a driver encounters a problem while on the road, they can simply ask Alexa for help instead of trying to figure out who to call in their local area. Alexa will contact a roadside assistance provider who can then assess the situation and send help, the company explains.

The service is not designed to compete with existing roadside assistance plans, like AAA or those provided by a car insurance provider, but is rather meant to be used by those without some sort of assistance plan. Amazon says the user only pays for the services they need at the time.

Image Credits: Amazon

These costs will vary depending on location and what sort of service is required, but customers will be notified of the pricing from the roadside assistance provider and will agree to the service before anyone is dispatched to help. The providers are independent contractors in the local area — Amazon did not name any national brands as partners.

To use the feature, the customer will say “Alexa, call roadside assistance” to their device or app, then be connected with an agent for an estimate. When the service is confirmed, they’ll receive an invoice with the payment due. The customer will be able to complete the payment via the phone or via Stripe, and the agent will then dispatch the service.

The feature is said to be coming in the months ahead, but Amazon didn’t offer an exact timeframe. That means we don’t yet know how well this feature works or how competitive the pricing being offered will be.

The feature was one of two additions designed with the needs of drivers in mind announced at today’s event, however.

Another allows Amazon to notify Echo Auto users (or even Echo devices at home), when a Whole Foods curbside pickup order is ready. On Echo Auto and through the Alexa app, users will receive the notification about the order, and can then say “Alexa, check into Whole Foods” to let the store know you’re on the way. Alexa will also offer a welcome message when you arrive with parking instructions and alert the store staff of your arrival.

read more about Amazon's fall event, September 28, 2022

Amazon Alexa and Echo Auto can now call for roadside assistance by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

‘Alexa, pay for gas’ command to work at over 11,500 Exxon and Mobil stations this year

Pumping gas is not that difficult, but Amazon thinks the process could be even easier by way of a voice command, spoken aloud when you arrive at the pump: “Alexa, pay for gas.” Today, Amazon, alongside ExxonMobil and Fiserv, announced a new voice experience for pumping gas that will roll out to over 11,500 Exxon and Mobile gas stations across the U.S. later this year.

The ability to pay for gas via Alexa will initially be made available to customers with Alexa-enabled vehicles, Echo Auto, and other Alexa-enabled mobility devices, Amazon says.

When the customer arrives at the pump, they’ll just have to say, “Alexa pay for gas” to get started. Alexa will then confirm the station location and pump number.

The transactions themselves will be processed using Amazon Pay. That uses the same payment information stored in the customer’s Amazon account. Fiserv’s digital commerce technology will help to power the transactions by activating the pump and facilitating the token generation to ensure a secure payment experience.

It’s not clear that the Alexa-enabled experience is significantly faster or easier than inserting your payment card at the pump directly. If anything, it seems a little more involved. But the technology could be useful for some because it allows you to remain in the car until the pump is authorized and ready to go, instead of requiring you to stand outside while the activation process takes place.

That’s a nice perk for cold, winter days — but it could also be appreciated by women and others who are wary of being alone at the pump — like when pumping gas at night or in unfamiliar surroundings, for example, or anywhere they don’t feel comfortable.

“We’re excited to bring new technology and better experiences to the gas station,” said Eric Carmichael, Americas fuels marketing manager at ExxonMobil, in a statement. “We build and seek out technology that will wow our consumers, providing both ease of use and security.”

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Ford to offer Amazon in-car delivery and on-demand car washes in connected services push

Ford is now part of Amazon’s free in-car delivery service, the latest automaker to partner with the ecommerce and logistics giant.

Amazon will bring its Key by Amazon In-Car delivery service to eligible Ford and Lincoln vehicles. The service will initially launch in 50 U.S. metro areas, according to Lorin Kennedy, who leads the FordPass business venture at the automaker.

For now, only Amazon Prime members who own select 2017 model year or newer Ford and 2018 or newer Lincoln vehicles can participate in the service. Those vehicles must be equipped with modems that connect to the automaker’s connected car cloud services, FordPass Connect and Lincoln Way. 

There are restrictions on packages as well and will require a signature if they weigh more than 50 pounds or are larger than 26 x 21 x 16 inches in size.

Amazon has been moving into the car for a few years now. When Amazon Key initially started, customers could give delivery drivers access to their house with the help of a compatible keypad on their door and a smart security camera.

The service was expanded last year to in-car delivery for Prime members. GM and Volvo were the first to offer the Amazon Key In-Car delivery service.

The ecommerce and logistics giant has also partnered with several automakers, beginning with Ford in 2017, to bring Alexa, its intelligent voice-enabled assistant into the vehicle. Audi, Hyundai, Toyota, and Volkswagen also have equipped some of its newer models with Alexa.

Last year, Amazon introduced Echo Auto, a device that plugs into the car’s infotainment system, giving drivers the smart assistant and voice control for hands-free interactions. Users can interact with the product’s mic array in standard fashion and ask for things like traffic reports, add products to shopping lists and play music through Amazon’s entertainment system.

But the announcement illustrates more than Amazon’s ambitions; it also shows how Ford is looking for new ways to make the car — or truck — an essential asset that does more than provide the means to get around.

FordPass is a big part of the company’s connected car plans. Ford also announced Tuesday that other businesses are able to integrate their apps with Ford and Lincoln connected vehicles to offer additional new services.

One of the first will be car washing services. FordPass and Lincoln Way customers can now buy car washes from SpiffyRub A Dub and Sparkl wherever these services are available.

“Through modem capability with connected vehicles, we’re able to leverage a lot more technology,” Kennedy said. “We see this is really just the beginning of what we can deliver to our customers using a connected vehicle.”

After over a million pre-orders, Amazon’s Echo Auto has begun to ship

At Amazon’s event in September, the company announced the Echo Auto, an aftermarket product designed to bring Alexa to cars. But the device has remained in pre-order status, even as other products also unveiled at the same event — like the Fire TV Recast, AmazonBasics microwave and various Echo devices for the home — went on sale and shipped to customers. The Echo Auto, meanwhile, is still only available on an invite-only basis. But Amazon confirmed to TechCrunch that it has begun to ship the device to pre-order customers.

In fact, some Echo Auto customers received their new device in time for Christmas, according to Steve Rabuchin, VP, Alexa.

Apparently, the Echo Auto was in demand, too.

“We had over a million [pre-order] requests,” Rabuchin told us. “Now, we’re just starting to ship.”

Amazon says the device began to ship to the first set of customers in December, and pre-orders continue to be fulfilled.

What Amazon didn’t explain is why the device has remained in pre-order status for so long, why it largely missed the holiday season with this ideal stocking stuffer-type of product or when it would finally exit “invite only” status for good. (That’s right — you still can’t just buy one!)

The Echo Auto isn’t the only Echo product that ran in short supply in recent days.

According to Bloomberg, Amazon’s online retail store in North America and Europe had some issues keeping some of its Echo devices in stock in time for Christmas delivery, too.

It’s not all bad news, however. Despite the shortages, the retailer reported a record-breaking holiday season, including “millions more Amazon devices” sold compared the 2017 holidays. Over the course of the year, Amazon says it sold “tens of millions” of Echo products, and it just announced a milestone of 100 million Alexa devices sold to date.

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Echo Auto brings Alexa to cars

As Amazon noted at today’s event, the company has already been working with a number of car companies to bring Alexa to vehicles. There are already a number of high-profile partners, including Toyota, Ford, Lexus, BMW and Audi. Today, it announced its plan to bring the assistant to the rest of the “hundreds of millions” of auto models out there — Echo Auto.

The device is a small dongle that plugs into the car’s infotainment system, giving drivers the smart assistant and voice control for hands-free interactions. Users can interact with the product’s mic array in standard fashion and ask for things like traffic reports, add products to shopping lists and play music through Amazon’s entertainment system.

The product also integrates with Amazon’s routines, making the product an interesting part of the company’s growing smart home experience. That means it can turn lights and appliances on/off as you’re coming and going.

The Drop-In feature, already available on products like Fire tablets and the Echo Show, is here as well. Using it, you can speak directly with those on your contacts list with a simple voice command. 

Of course, the product also integrates with various mapping services, so you can get driving directions. It works with Waze by default, but Apple and Google Maps will also be available. The product will run $50, though early adopters can get their hands on it this year for testing, with an added bonus of a price discount down to $25.

Check out our full coverage from the event here.