Volvo Is Giving Google Assistant a Central Role in Its Next-Generation Cars


Google is no longer creeping into the car. It’s invading.

Volvo Cars announced Monday ahead of the Google I/O developer conference that it will embed voice-controlled Google Assistant, Google Play Store, Google Maps, and other Google services into its next-generation Sensus infotainment system.

This means future Volvo owners will use Google Assistant as the central voice interface to operate all the functions of their vehicle’s infotainment system from heating and cooling, to using it for navigation, playing music, and sending messages. And no, it won’t matter what kind of smartphone they own.

This builds off of the automaker’s partnership with Google that was announced last year to possibly bring the Android operating system into its cars.

It’s a notable announcement for Google, which has been battling with Apple along with automotive incumbents for control of the vehicle screen.

It all started in 2015 when Google released Android Auto, an in-car platform that brings the look and feel of a smartphone to a vehicle’s center screen. Both Android Auto and its Apple CarPlay rival have had success. These platforms are now available in hundreds of new cars.

But Android Auto is not an operating system. It’s just a secondary interface that lays on top of an operating system. The real battle is over the operating system of a vehicle’s infotainment system. Google took Android, its open-source mobile operating system that runs on Linux and is designed for smartphones and tablets, and modified it so it could be used in cars.

“A big investment has been to take Android, the mobile platform, and make that a true automotive platform,” Patrick Brady, vice president of engineering for Android, told Fortune. “We think we’re setting a new benchmark for infotainment (in cars).”

Automakers such as Honda, Hyundai, and Kia have been using older versions of the Android operating system in cars for years, Brady said. Google has also helped integrate services like Google Maps into a car’s proprietary software.

But this new version of Android is designed to be a turnkey system for automakers. And Brady predicts “crazy adoption” by automakers.

“In two to five years, you’re going to see more than half of new cars sold will be running Android,” Brady said.

Volvo Cars announced in 2017 that the new generation of its infotainment system will be based on Google’s Android platform. The first Android-based system is intended to be launched in a couple of years from now, according to Volvo, which didn’t provide a specific date.

Now Volvo is building on those plans.

The move is boon for the Google ecosystem because it will help it deliver potentially thousands of other third-party apps adapted for Android-based car infotainment systems into the car as well. And because the next generation of Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system will run on Android, new apps and software updates will be available in real-time and can be automatically applied.

“Bringing Google services into Volvo cars will accelerate innovation in connectivity and boost our development in applications and connected services,” Henrik Green, senior vice president of research and development at Volvo Cars said in a statement. “Soon, Volvo drivers will have direct access to thousands of in-car apps that make daily life easier and the connected in-car experience more enjoyable.”

Google Maps will also enable the next generation of Sensus to provide refreshed map and traffic data in real time, keeping drivers informed about upcoming traffic situations and proactively suggesting alternative routes.

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