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Alexa takes over at CES 2017 - and the car with a garden inside

Penny Brooks

7th January 2017

Amazon's Echo and Echo Dot - better known to the world as Alexa - were the best-selling products on Amazon this Christmas, in a year which saw the company's best-ever holiday sales. And at CES 2017 - the annual Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas to showcase the leading developments in technology - Alexa is leading the rush to incorporate voice-controlled virtual assistants into appliances from fridges and washing machines to cars and robots.

Amazon have gained the first mover advantage in this market by giving it free to device manufacturers and allowing them to adapt the technology as they see wish, so that it can be made fit for purpose. As this BBC report shows, the freedom to implement and adapt the capacity of the voice control to the specific needs of a huge range different applications gives a huge competitive advantage, mirroring the strategy which enabled Google's Android to become the operating system of choice in an equally wide range of products, way beyond it's use in smartphones.

Alexa won't always have it her own way though, with a multitude of competitors appearing at CES from the obvious sources such as Google, Microsoft, and Samsung, as well as plenty of other less well-known names. I love the description of a voice-operated system from Nabi, a brand owned by Mattel (manufacturers of the Barbie doll), which makes child-friendly tech. Its new Aristotle speaker incorporates Alexa and will soon feature Microsoft's Cortana, too - and parents can set it so that children speaking to the device must say "please" when uttering a command.

But perhaps my favourite story from the coverage of CES is the story of a concept car with a garden under the bonnet. Large enough, apparently, to grow radishes or bonsai trees. As you would expect, it's self-driving, so the steering wheel also folds flat and turns into a work surface, and the voice activated user interface enables it to "take snapshots of sunsets and the like while driving to ‘keep Instagram followers up to date." Barmy?

Penny Brooks

Formerly Head of Business and Economics and now Economics teacher, Business and Economics blogger and presenter for Tutor2u, and private tutor

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