Amazon Directs $100 Million to Develop Alexa Voice Technology
Online retail kingpin Amazon (AMZN) said it will direct some $100 million to a new fund to back developers, manufacturers and start-ups building new, innovative deployments for its Alexa voice technology.
The company will house its investment under the Alexa Fund, named after the cloud-based virtual assistant voice service behind its Amazon Echo “smart speaker.” The voice recognition capabilities enable Echo to provide services such as home entertainment, shopping and home automation control.
Amazon also released a software development kit, called the Alexa Skill Kit, a collection of self-service APIs and tools for developers to build voice-driven skills and capabilities such as enabling an Internet-facing home automation device to respond to voice commands.
In addition, Amazon has opened its free Alexa Voice Service (AVS) to third-party hardware makers to integrate into their devices, enabling, for example a manufacturer to turn a Wi-Fi alarm clock into a voice-actuated Alexa-enabled clock radio.
“Experiences designed around the human voice will fundamentally improve the way people use technology,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and chief executive.
“Since introducing Amazon Echo, we’ve heard from developers, manufacturers, and start-ups of all sizes who want to innovate with this new technology,” he said. “With the Alexa Fund, we want to empower people to explore the boundaries of voice technology. We’re eager to see what they come up with.”
Amazon said that it will make Alexa Fund investment decisions based on a company’s potential to build innovative voice apps using the Alexa SDK or voice service. The e-tailer said it will pay particular attention to companies building hardware products for the home that would benefit from Alexa, developers adding new features and functions to the voice platform and new contributions to the technology.
There’s more than money at stake here for companies gaining Amazon’s backing. The company said it will also offer early access to SDK capabilities, hands-on development support, additional marketing support on Amazon.com, placement at Amazon showcase events and membership in AWS Activate.
So far, Amazon has invested in seven companies through the Alexa Fund, including Orange Chef, which has a new mobile app called Countertop; Scout Alarm, a do-it-yourself home security provider; Garageio, a garage door monitoring system; Toymail, a connected toy maker; Dragon Innovation, which has developed a framework to build out ideas; MARA, a virtual running coach and personal trainer; and, Mojio, a provider of connected car solutions.
Amazon didn’t say how much money it has allocated to the seven companies.
Among the three top voice-enabled virtual assistant players, Amazon is the only one to open its technology to third-parties, although Apple (AAPL) has said it will do so with Siri to one degree or another, and Google (GOOG) has said an open API for Google Now is in development.