Volvo Updates Its Car Control App With Voice Commands

Volvo owners will be able to turn on the heat, lock the car and other tasks using voice commands through a smartband for the first time.

Volvo, smartbands, Microsoft Band 2, wearables, in-car connectivity, Volvo on Call, Knight Rider,KITT, CES 2016

Owners of Volvo cars and SUVs will now be able to give voice commands to their cars through a smartband and an updated Volvo app that will allow them to operate a range of functions on their vehicles before they even sit in the driver's seat.

The new voice command capabilities for the company's existing Volvo on Call app were announced by the Swedish automaker on Jan. 5 at the CES 2016 event in Las Vegas. The system works through a Microsoft Band 2 smartband that is worn by the vehicle owner, who can communicate voice commands through the wearable, which is linked to a Microsoft Windows smartphone.

Using the Band 2 and the Volvo on Call app, vehicle owners can perform in-car tasks such as setting the navigation system, turning on the interior heater, locking the doors, flashing the lights, sounding the horn in a crowded parking lot and more.

"We're not at all far away from it," Klas Bendrik, the CIO of Volvo Car Group, told eWEEK in an interview. The new voice command services for the Volvo on Call app will be available starting this spring for all Volvos in 2016, he said. Depending on the vehicle, the services will be standard equipment or as an option.

The Volvo on Call system has been used in the company's cars since about 2001, starting when it originally was used as an automatic emergency notification system in the event of a serious vehicle crash, Bendrik said. The services have been expanded over the years to also include the ability to send instructions to a Volvo vehicle through the smartphone app to lock the doors, start the heater and more. The latest update brings voice controls to the system using the smartband and connected smartphone.

"Previously you did those things with the app" by typing in commands on a smartphone, he said. "This is voice control rather than just app control," using the technology of Microsoft's Cortana digital assistant, the cloud and the Band 2.

Volvo owners will have to provide their own Microsoft smartphones and Band 2 smartbands.

"You use it by talking to the car, and you use it primarily when you are not yet in the vehicle," Bendrik said. "We are not doing these activities just for the sake of technology. We are doing them for ease of use, convenience and safety for consumers."

Other voice-operated tasks will continue to be added in the future, he added.

The voice-operated vehicle commands are reminiscent of the popular American television show "Knight Rider," which featured actor David Hasselhoff talking to his car KITT using voice commands.

"Volvo is intent on making the car experience as easy and convenient as possible by utilizing the latest technology in the most relevant and inspiring ways," Thomas Müller, vice president of electrics, electronics and e-propulsion at Volvo, said in a statement. "With voice control we are only just beginning to scratch the surface of what is possible with digital assistant functionalities."

Today Volvo on Call is available in the United States, Canada, China, Sweden, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Russia, Poland and Brazil.