Amazon Partners With Chipmakers To Push Alexa Voice Assistant Into More Devices

(Photo credit: Conexant)

(Photo credit: Conexant)

Amazon wants to put its digital voice assistant, Alexa, into as many devices as possible. For help, it’s partnering up with more chipmakers to make it easier for outside developers to get Alexa up and running on devices like speakers, thermostats and wearables.

On Wednesday, Conexant, maker of audio processing chips, announced it’s releasing a development kit approved by Alexa Voice Services, which is Amazon’s program for hooking up third-party products to Alexa in its cloud.

The kit provides hardware developers with two microphones and a processor loaded with software for picking up the “Alexa” wake word. The kit is supposed to enable devices to recognize the wake word in noisy environments.

Similarly, chipmaking giant Intel announced last week that it would be integrating Alexa into its smart home platform kit, called the Smart Home Hub. Intel is also creating a reference design of a smart speaker powered by Alexa that’s coming out in early 2017.

“Amazon wants to offer a portfolio of cost-effective solutions” to device makers, said Priya Abani, director of Alexa, in an interview. “At Amazon Voice Services, we’ve solved the complexity of presenting voice control to customers with cloud APIs. Now we’re solving the challenge of designing Alexa into hardware.”

Abani previously served a long stint at Intel before joining Amazon.

“We want to support a diverse ecosystem,” continued Abani. “We’re going to have partnerships with multiple chip vendors.”

Alexa first appeared in 2014 as a feature on Echo, Amazon’s cylinder-shaped smart speaker with a seven-microphone array for picking up user commands. The device proved to be a surprise hit in the tech world. It showed the world a tantalizing future powered by voice. Users can ask Alexa to do things like play music, make a shopping list, order an Uber car or turn on the lights. New capabilities (or “Skills” as Amazon calls them) are being added every week. Amazon has sold 5.1 million Echos so far, according to recent estimates from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. Now all the big tech players are following Amazon with their own smart speakers powered by their intelligent voice assistant.

Amazon has launched other Alexa-powered hardware like Echo Dot, a chopped-down version of Echo, and added Alexa to its streaming media device, Fire TV. But Amazon has been eager for outside companies to equip their devices with Alexa too. Small startups and big companies have slowly begun integrating Alexa directly into their products. The biggest player to adopt Alexa to date is GE’s lighting division, which will be coming out with an Alexa-powered lamp.

By partnering with chipmakers, Amazon is hoping the rate of adoption for Alexa is only going to increase. Conexant said it will take only a few weeks (instead of months) to put together a prototype of an Alexa-powered device with its new development kit.

Aaron Tilley ,  FORBES STAFF

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