By ERIC HAL SCHWARTZ

Drivers using Android Auto can ask Google Assistant to pay for the fuel at tens of thousands of gas stations around the United States. The voice payment option is one of a swath of new features and updates to Google’s vehicular AI. The upgrades came with the news that Honda will build Google into its cars starting in 2022 as part of a new partnership.

ANDROID AUTO ACCELERATION

The most notable update is, arguably, making it possible to buy gas by voice. Drivers can ask Google Assistant to make the purchase via Google Pay at more than 32,500 Conoco, 76, Phillips 66, and Exxon and Mobil stations in the U.S. now, but the company indicated that more stations and franchise names are in the works. Electric car drivers aren’t left out entirely either. Google Maps is adding charging stations to its list of landmarks and drivers can ask where the nearest ones that their car can plug into are located, along with real-time updates on if there’s a free charger. Google’s tech will even adjust the battery’s temperature on the way to speed up the charging process.

Between fuelings, drivers will notice different changes depending on how Google Assistant is accessed in their vehicle. These changes make the end of Android Auto on smartphones in favor of Google Assistant Driving Mode official after nearly a year of previews and tests. Google Assistant Driving Mode replaces Android Auto for those who connect their smartphones to their cars. Drivers tell Google Assistant, “Hey, Google, let’s drive,” to active it, with large tiles representing common actions replacing the usual screen. Google Assistant will also switch to announcing incoming calls and reading texts if the user wishes. The rollout also includes changes to how Android Auto works on compatible cars, of which Google claims there are more than 100 million. Car displays will now share Google Assistant recommendations for music, podcasts and other content, with the option to set default app preferences. Google has even arranged so that compatible games can be displayed and played on car screens, but only when the car is shifted into park.

NATIVE DRIVE

Google has been adding to its car-based activities at a rapid if relatively quiet rate. In February, Google brought back Routines to Google Assistant on Android Auto after a two-year absence. Routines fit with the connection to the Samsung SmartThings app for Android Auto, a recent aspect of the new partnership between SmartThings and Google Nest. Android Auto and Google Assistant Driving Mode are not the same as the native integration of Android Automotive, which Groupe PSA is installing in its cars starting in 2023, or as deep as Google’s Android Automotive OS, which Ford is also adding in 2023. Honda is joining in starting next year, with Google incorporated into the cars from the start. What’s less clear is if this will have any impact on Honda’s year-old native voice assistant developed with SoundHound’s Houndify voice AI platform. We’ve reached out to Honda and SoundHound to learn more.

“No matter what kind of car you own, Google is ready to make your drive better. We’re bringing updates to Google Assistant driving mode, Android Auto and cars with Google built-in (welcome Honda!) to help every driver find their way around, stay entertained, and keep in touch,” Google Assistant product director Jack Krawczyk and Android for cars product director Mickey Kataria explained in a blog post. “In the coming years, millions of cars will have Google fully built-in to their infotainment systems, so you can get around with Google Maps, use Google Assistant to turn on the A/C, download your favorite apps on Google Play and much more, even without a smartphone,”

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