Amazon is opening up the microphone technology behind its Amazon Echo speakers to third-party hardware companies, as it looks to expedite the uptake of its Alexa digital assistant while also improving its quality.
Amazon launched the Echo in the U.S. in 2015, and the product line has been generally well received, with Amazon going on to introduce two cheaper versions, the Amazon Tap and the Echo Dot. The Echo was expanded beyond the U.S. and into Europe six months back.
With the likes of Google entering the smart speaker fray with Home, and Samsung keen to push its new Bixby digital assistant into connected devices, it seems that Amazon is now in a race to garner as much traction as possible with Alexa as quickly as it can. And to do so, it’s making the software that powers the voice-recognition and speech-processing in the Echo available to third parties to use — for free.
With the Amazon Alexa 7-Mic Far-Field Development Kit, OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) can build their own far-field voice-activated products — as long as they use Alexa. The development kit basically enables hardware makers to launch new products that can detect a person’s voice on the other side of a room, and in situations when there may be noise interference. It also allows them to use wake-word recognition in their devices, for example, “Hey Alexa, do that thing you said you’d do.”
It’s worth noting here that Alexa can already be integrated into third-party devices, but by offering this new development kit, Amazon is helping OEMs build products that can recognize voices as well as the Echo can. It’s about ensuring a certain level of quality wherever Alexa rears her virtual head.
“Since the introduction of Amazon Echo and Echo Dot, device makers have been asking us to provide the technology and tools to enable a far-field Alexa experience for their products,” said Priya Abani, director at Amazon Alexa, in a press release. “With this new reference solution, developers can design products with the same unique 7-mic circular array, beamforming technology, and voice processing software that have made Amazon Echo so popular with customers.”
Though the kit is free to use, only select manufacturers will be permitted access. It’s clear that Amazon wants to keep a tight leash on its use, but interested OEMs can apply for access here.