Amazon.com Inc.’s Alexa is taking on a new body. Or rather, bodies.
The web giant opened its Amazon Alexa 7-Mic Far-Field Development Kit last week to allow developers to integrate Alexa software into their products. Alexa is Amazon’s voice-activated virtual assistant software that powers its Echo, Echo Dot and Tap devices. Commercial device manufacturers have to request an invitation to receive the kit.
Forrester Research Inc. estimates there are about 10 million Alexa-powered smart speakers currently in consumers’ homes, and allowing developers access to the development kit will allow that number to rapidly increase, says James McQuivey, a Forrester vice president and principal analyst.
“This expands Amazon’s world domination plan,” McQuivey says. “(CEO Jeff) Bezos already admitted they’re having a hard time keeping Echo Dot in stock, and this solves that problem quite handily, giving the company a possible avenue for eventually doubling the number of devices without having to invest in making and selling devices themselves.”
With more Alexa-powered devices, consumers’ use of Alexa definitely will increase, says Patrick Esslinger, CEO of VUI Agency, a voice-technology developer that builds Alexa skills for businesses. “As we have seen at CES 2017, manufacturers want to integrate Alexa into their products,” Esslinger says, referring to the annual consumer electronics and technology trade show held each January in Las Vegas
Consumer technology makers, such as TV, speaker and computer monitor makers, are obvious fits for wanting to integrate this technology into their hardware, McQuivey says. “The next obvious (products) are appliances that are plugged in and sit in a specific location where a user has needs that Alexa can help with—that’s refrigerators, washing machines, stoves and microwaves,” he says.
For example, a microwave manufacturer could create an Alexa skill that allows a consumer to turn on the microwave and heat up pasta for 30 seconds with her voice. The consumer can then also access Alexa’s 10,000 skills within the context of the microwave, such as ordering more oregano or sauce (from Amazon, of course).
“If you can charge extra for that microwave because it can do regular Alexa things, you can justify the bit of work needed to add those few features,” McQuivey says.
Businesses can create Alexa skills in-house or outsource the task to vendors, like VUI Agency.
Alexander Meissner, chief technology officer at voice technology developing firm VUI Agency, likens developing an Alexa skill to the process of creating a chatbot. VUI Agency charges businesses $5,000-$20,000 to build a skill,which can take three weeks to three months, and then $100 each month to host and monitor the skill, Meissner says. Integrating Alexa software into a device, however, is likely more complex than building skills, McQuivey says.
The Alexa development kit also offers manufacturers another way of adding their product to the Internet of Things, as opposed to developing their own voice-activated software or allowing their device to connect to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. “Offering this tech solves a huge problem for many of these companies that don’t want to put screens on their devices or don’t want to develop apps,” McQuivey says.
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