Amazon Lets Alexa Roam Free

Alexa has been unleashed. Amazon's artificial intelligence (AI) helper has become the standard-bearer for much of the innovation in the virtual assistant market. Today, Amazon launched the Alexa Voice Service Device SDK, giving businesses the tools to bring Alexa's speech-recognition capabilities and cloud-based intelligence to their own commercial products and devices.

According to Amazon, the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) and software development kit (SDK) have already been available to more than 50 commercial device makers via an invite-only developer preview, including companies like Technicolor and smart home startup Senic.

Companies now have access to Alexa developer documentation, tutorials, and a sample app for everything Alexa does under the hood: procesing audio inputs and triggers, speech recognition and synthesis, and Alexa's full range of complex interactions, including everything from notifications to weather reports. More importantly, AVS also grants access to the thousands of custom skills in the Alexa ecosystem.

Businesses have already built Alexa skills for a wide array of day-to-day office and productivity tasks, from tracking expenses to posting a Slack message with an Amazon Echo voice command. Google and Microsoft have followed suit with Actions on Google and the Cortana Skills Kit, respectively, but Amazon has by far the most comprehensive skills ecosystem that companies can now incorporate directly into their own devices.

In the case of Alexa's newly granted freedom, the inverse happened. Microsoft released Cortana for iOS earlier this year, and Google piled on a few months later when it announced Google Assistant was coming to the iPhone as well. At the same time, Apple ramped up competition between the major players in the smart home space with its release of the Apple HomePod this year.

At the time, Amazon's Alexa chief responded to the news by stating that Amazon is open to integrations and making sure its software works with anyone's hardware. The AVS Device SDK backs up that talk with the DIY tools for businesses to do just that. In doing so, Amazon has broadened the scope of where Alexa might live beyond smartphones and smart home devices.

The natural course of open-source development will determine what devices and connected experiences Alexa finds her way into. Alexa functionality is already included in devices like the Huawei Mate 9 and other smart home tech, but for enterprises, the potential lies more in business-to-business (B2B) scenarios.

If your company has contemplated or has already started developing custom Alexa skills for specific business tasks, you're no longer bound by the need to buy a proprietary device like an Amazon Echo Show. Where do you want Alexa to live? In an Internet of Things (IoT) device on your factory floor? In a voice-enabled monitor in your office or conference room? In your salesperson's company car? In a ruggedized tablet a field engineer brings onsite? Start playing around in with the AVS Device SDK on GitHub and find out.

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