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Ford turns Amazon Alexa into a driver assistant

At CES, Ford announced its cars will connect to Amazon's Alexa voice assistant to let drivers search destinations and control their smart home equipment.

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This year, Ford will integrate Amazon's Alexa with its Sync 3 infotainment system, letting drivers search for destinations and access other services.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET Roadshow

Where many automakers integrate Google for online destination search, Ford announced at CES that it will use Amazon's Alexa service. In addition to letting drivers ask Alexa to find destinations from their cars, the integration supports a host of other services, including the ability to control smart home devices and order items through Amazon.

The integration includes asking Alexa in the home for information about a connected Ford vehicle, such as finding out its current fuel level.

Ford is using its Sync 3 infotainment head unit, included in most Ford vehicles, to integrate Alexa. The connection will rely on the driver's smartphone and an Amazon Echo, Echo Dot or Tap in the home. And unlike using Alexa in the home, drivers will need to push a voice command button in the car.

Cars have been gaining many connected features, such as real-time traffic and online destination search, throughout the last decade. Smart home connectivity represents a new frontier, made possible through services such as Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant. Connecting car and home will let drivers turn on lights, music and heating in their homes through voice command, before they get to the front door.

Earlier this year, Hyundai announced it would integrate its cars with Alexa, although its initial implementation will just let people ask Alexa to start up their cars or lock the doors from their living rooms. The Ford announcement takes things further, with a host of services from inside the car. A driver will be able to add items to a shopping list, something home users of Alexa are familiar with, request and listen to audio books, and control any connected smart home equipment, such as garage doors and lights.

As a unique take on Alexa, however, Ford will let drivers ask for destinations, such as a nearby restaurant. Alexa will then feed the address into the car's navigation system.

In the first phase of the Alexa connectivity rollout this month, Ford says it will enable drivers to request information about their cars from an Alexa device in the home. The integration will work with the Ford Focus Electric, Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi. Alexa will tell owners the car's electric range, fuel level and other data.

The next phase, in summer, will see greater integration in the car, letting drivers make a variety of requests from Alexa, including some of the same things an Alexa device in the home can respond to. As this Alexa integration relies on Sync 3's AppLink feature, which integrates third-party apps into the car's infotainment system, it should work in any Sync 3-equipped car.