Alexa Goes For A Ride In Gen 2 Echo Auto

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Amazon has a new Echo Auto to inject some AI assistant smarts into your "dumb" car. The second-generation in-car assistant hub, which Amazon has decided to market as Echo Auto 2nd Gen, is a stark departure from its predecessor in terms of mounting versatility. The original Echo Auto arrived in 2019, but it was somewhat of a nightmare with the finicky design requirements for air-vent mount compatibility. In a nutshell, if your car had a circular air vent with a non-rectangular mount slot, the Echo Auto simply wouldn't fit.

To solve the problem, Amazon has decided to go with an adhesive system this time around. The second-gen Echo Auto can now be mounted either vertically, horizontally — or any darn orientation — on the head unit. But that's not the only major change. Amazon has redesigned the entire thing. Where the first-gen Echo Auto was a single-unit hockey puck-like plastic device dangling by a USB cable, the second-gen Echo Auto divides the bulk of the device into two halves connected by a non-removable cable.

At one end is the USB-A hub, while the other end has the speaker assembly that actually looks more like a candy-bar mike. At the top is the glowing blue Alexa lighting array, while the adjacent face has the familiar two-button system for summoning Alexa and muting the mic. The latter is a privacy-centric measure, apparently because Alexa has a bad history of "inadvertently" snooping on private conversations.

Weird downgrade, new partner

The mesh design certainly evokes the Echo Dot aesthetics, while audio is delivered through your car's speaker system once you get the device set up. There's still the 3.5mm jack on the other half to handle aux audio duties, but a weird downgrade has certainly been made. Instead of the eight-mic array on the first-gen Echo Auto, Amazon has only put five microphones on its successor. However, the company still claims that its in-car Alexa gizmo can hear your voice commands "over music, the air conditioner, and road noise." There are some new features, too, namely a skill that ties in Whole Foods' curbside pickup service, the upcoming ability for Alexa to notify you if it has a "Hunch" about something you may have forgotten to do before leaving home, and the addition of roadside assistance support.

On the service expansion side of things, BMW has announced that the in-car digital assistance system in its future vehicles will be built on the Alexa Custom Assistant platform. To put it in simple terms, BMW will work with the Alexa kernel and put in a layer of customized features that are suited for its vehicles. The carmaker didn't go into details regarding what customers can expect but only mentioned that the Amazon partnership will save costs of developing its own in-car AI assistant platform. The first BMW cars with an Alexa-derived AI assistant experience will be here within the next couple of years. Meanwhile, the Echo Auto 2nd Gen is priced at $54.99 and will be available on Amazon soon.