European carmaker Skoda to provide drivers with voice activated digital assistant

Key Points
  • Technology could help to change the ways we interact with our cars. 
  • Skoda's system, which supports six languages, is able to undertake a range of tasks.
Uli Deck | picture alliance | Getty Images

Skoda is to introduce a digital assistant that can be activated with a verbal command. In an announcement Wednesday, the Czech car maker said the digital assistant could be activated by the phrase "Okay, Laura."

The system, which supports six languages, is able to undertake a range of tasks including starting navigation to a destination and searching for music. It will initially be available in models of the Kamiq city SUV and the compact Scala. Part of the Volkswagen Group since 1991, the Skoda brand delivered 1.25 million vehicles globally in 2018, according to its annual report.

The company's introduction of a virtual, voice activated assistant mirrors efforts by other manufacturers in the sector. Some BMW cars, for instance, are now equipped with an "intelligent personal assistant" which can be activated by using a button, a personal activation word or the phrase "Hello, BMW." Verbal commands can be used to, among other things, activate seat heating, get information on tire pressure, and adjust the in-car temperature.

"Voice is the ideal interaction tool in the vehicle," Jack Palmer, a senior connected car specialist at SBD Automotive, said in a statement sent to CNBC via email on Thursday.

"If the lion's share of commands from the driver can be inputted through virtual assistants, rather than fiddling around with touchscreens and buttons, the current epidemic of driver distraction will be greatly mitigated," Palmer added. "Automakers have realized this and the race is on for them to integrate their own solutions or partner with consumer electronics companies such as Google and Amazon."

The moves by firms such as Skoda and BMW point to a potential shift in the way people interact with their cars. Hannah Keshishian, an automotive analyst at market intelligence firm Mintel, told CNBC via email that one of its recent reports had highlighted how nearly 40% of U.S. consumers who owned a vehicle "would like to use a digital personal assistant in their vehicle." This, she added, "opens the door to greater possibilities for digital assistant vehicle connectivity."