In January of this year, our team went to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. It was a great show, but what really stood out was how quickly Amazon Alexa services have caught on with product manufacturers and the wide variety of use cases. There were Alexa enabled refrigerators, Ford cars, vacuum cleaners, bathroom mirrors, door locks, light switches, and shower heads. From the show it seemed like just about any consumer device could be integrated with Alexa whether it makes practical sense or not. Alexa has evolved the market for voice assistants from something you interact with by talking into your smartphone to a platform that stretches from the smart home, office, car, to a wearable device.
What is Amazon Alexa?
Alexa is a voice recognition service allowing users to interact with a device through voice commands or intelligent personal assistant as Amazon calls it. It utilizes Amazon’s cloud based voice recognition technology to respond to user voice commands. It can provide informational responses or initiate actions interacting with other pieces of software or devices.
Why Integrate Alexa?
Since the introduction of the Alexa enabled Echo speaker in December 2014, Amazon has sold over 8.2 million devices according to a recent market research report. Other estimates suggest sales of over 10 million Alexa enabled devices just during the last holiday season. With growing consumer awareness (82% awareness according to some estimates) and increasing product sales Alexa is becoming a widely recognized and adopted platform. Alexa can improve customer experience by allowing users to interact with devices and software in a more natural voice enabled mode. Instead of fumbling with clumsy remotes or navigating multiple graphical user interfaces, a voice command can control a variety of objects. It provides a hands free and easy way of interacting with technology that can fundamentally change people’s lives.
How can Alexa integrate with other products?
Amazon provides several options to integrate Alexa in products. The three main services are: Alexa Voice Service, Amazon Lex Service, and Amazon Skills Kit.
Amazon Voice Service:
Alexa Voice Service provides an opportunity to bring Alexa to a variety of connected products. The free AVS API allows developers to add intelligent voice controls to any connected product that has a microphone and speaker allowing it to access the built in capabilities of Alexa as well as third party skills.
Amazon Lex Service:
The Amazon Lex Service allows developers to build conversational interfaces or chatbots for any application using voice and text. It uses the same deep learning technologies that power Alexa to provide automatic speech recognition and natural language understanding. This is a usage based paid service with no minimums.
Amazon Skills Kit:
Amazon provides the Amazon Skills Kit (ASK) which developers can use to create custom skills (enable specific experience or commands). There are currently 3 types of skills that can be developed.
Smart Home Skills
Amazon provides the smart home skills API which developers can use to integrate with products and which can perform 3 types of commands or directives.
- Turn a device on or off
- Increase or decrease temperature
- Change the dimness or brightness of a light
An example of a command would be “Alexa turn off the bedroom light”
Flash Briefing Skills
The flash briefing skills API provides the ability to deliver briefing type content to the user. The developer defines content feeds which contain audio that is played or text that is read by Alexa when the skill is called.
An example could be “tell me the market news” which could provide the user with content that the developer has identified related to financial markets.
Custom skills are the most complex to implement but also provide the most control and flexibility over the user experience. A custom skill can handle any kind of request, so long as you can create the code to fulfill the request and provide appropriate data in the interaction model to let users invoke the request. Custom skills can use either Amazon Lambda or a HTTPS enabled web server for the integration. Lambda skills can be developed using Python, Node.js, or Java. An example would be “order a medium meat lovers pizza from Innovizo Pizza”. The developer would need to define the intent “order pizza”, create an invocation name “Innovizo Pizza”(name Alexa uses to identify your skill), and develop associated code which would need to be executed to accomplish this task.
Alexa is a powerful tool that is gaining rapid adoption in a number of products and markets. It’s open nature provides an opportunity for product owners to leverage Alexa to extend the capabilities and improve the user experience of their products. If you haven’t tried Alexa yet, you don’t need to buy anything new to test it out and see if it would be useful for you or your product. Amazon provides a website designed to offer developers a way to test Alexa skills before releasing them to the world. Echosim.io provides Alexa in a browser window. After logging in with an Amazon account, you can start interacting with Alexa by pressing and holding the microphone button.
Have a product or software idea? Talk to our team to get started. Our analytics and engineering experts can provide a free consultation and support all your development needs.
Gary Lipsky is a managing partner at Innovizo. He leads data and technology strategy and solution delivery. He is also a AWS certified solution architect. Follow him on twitter @glipsky.