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How Amazon’s Alexa became a Tesla valet

A developer has integrated Tesla's summoning feature with Amazon Echo's Alexa. The resulting voice-activated car control system shows the potential for more Internet of Things applications. 

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The newest sign 2016 is the future: a voice-activated valet that will will summon your vehicle.

Tesla laid the groundwork when they created the “summoning” system for their electric cars, which allows owners to sit back and watch while a car parks itself. But one developer took the system to another level last weekend by linking it to the voice activated command hub Amazon Echo.

The result: a virtual assistant that can control your car, or at least tell it to pull out of the garage (visible in the video above). And several new questions about just how much increasingly sophisticated virtual assistants will be able to assist in daily home life.

"Imagine the day I could ask Alexa from within my house to get my car ready,” Jason Goecke, the developer behind the project, says in an article on Teslarati. “All the technologies are already here, it's stringing them together just right.”

When Amazon Echo first hit markets, there was understandable confusion over just what it was. It filled the requirements for a voice-activated speaker system, but the marketing and commercials for the device suggested it had the potential to be more – it responded to voice commands, answered questions, controlled appliances, told jokes, and came with a name: “Alexa.”

With the addition of a few updates, it soon became a hit with early adopters, becoming a “#1 Best Seller” on Amazon.com. ZDNet’s James Kendrick explained in December 2015:

I admit that now I rarely think about the Echo. Not because I don't use it much, but because using and operating it by voice has become natural to my daily routine.

I find Alexa, I mean the Echo, to be a part of my life as I use it constantly. I tell "her" what I want and the Echo delivers.

And although Alexa has some unique features, like being tied to a speaker system, it arrived in the midst of a tech trend. Similar virtual assistant programs have been developed by a  range of other tech companies, including Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Google Now, and newcomer Viv.

Those assistant programs are increasingly able to interact with “Internet of Things” Hubs, like Google Nest and Samsung’s SmartThings Hub, to offer an unprecedented level of service via voice command.

To name a few services currently available:

  • Turning on lights
  • Setting the temperature in a home
  • Accessing Spotify, Pandora, or iTunes to play music
  • Ordering Domino’s pizza
  • Tweeting and posting on other social mediums
  • Answering questions via Google

The latest addition of functional control of a car wasn’t an official perk. It required using an unofficial Tesla Application Programing Interface (API), the system behind how an application interacts with other systems, a few third-party systems, and a customized command for Alexa. Overall, “a fun weekend project,” according to Mr. Goecke.

But the unofficial application hints at how many integrations and applications could arise as the Internet of Things matures, an industry, which Cisco Systems Inc. CEO John Chambers said in January 2014 had the potential to be worth $19 trillion.

"Tesla has built the beginnings of an excellent platform, but it will take a concerted effort to attract developers to build the apps that even Elon Musk hasn't dreamed of (yet)," Goecke said. 

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