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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Alibaba's digital assistant finds home in Mercedes, Audi and Volvo

Digital speakers and devices powered by virtual assistants have become one of the hottest consumer products of past years

A Volvo showroom. The company is among several implementing Tmall Genie digital assistant. Luke MacGregor/Reuters
A Volvo showroom. The company is among several implementing Tmall Genie digital assistant. Luke MacGregor/Reuters

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

Daimler, Volkswagen and Zhejiang Geely’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 modelled 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 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.

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Mercedes, Audis and Volvos are among the most popular luxury car brands in China, the world’s biggest car 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,” said Lijuan Chen, head of Alibaba AI Labs.

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