The brain behind Amazon’s Echo, Alexa, is breaking out of her cylindrical cage. The retail giant today announced the availability of the Alexa Skills Kit, a set of APIs that lets developers create voice-driven capabilities for Alexa. Amazon also announced that Alexa can be integrated with any hardware device, from a phone to a TV. In addition, the company rolled out a $100 million fund to invest in developers building new experiences with the voice-activated assistant.
The Alexa Skills Kits, called ASK, is already in the hands of some developers, including StubHub, Intuit and AOL. Developers who want to add to Alexa’s abilities can write code that works with Alexa in the cloud, letting the smart assistant do the heavy lifting of understanding and deciphering spoken commands. ASK is available today and the first new Alexa capabilities will launch later this year.
In addition, hardware makers will be able to build Alexa-based voice-activated features into their devices free with a program called Alexa Voice Services. Amazon suggests Alexa could ultimately be found anywhere from your car or alarm clock to a movie ticket machine in the lobby of a theater.
“We’ve made adding Alexa incredibly easy for developers—any device with a speaker, an Internet connection, and a microphone can integrate Alexa with just a few lines of code,” said Greg Hart, vice president of Amazon Echo and Alexa Voice Services.
The company says the $100 million Alexa Fund will help developers and manufacturers push the boundaries of voice-based interaction. The online retailer has already invested in seven companies through the fund, including modular home security maker Scout Alarm, connected toymaker Toymail and connected-car solutions provider Mojio. Update: Amazon declined to say whether it’s taking equity stakes in the companies as part of the investments.
Echo, the intelligent talking speaker with Alexa inside, was introduced last year and made broadly available this week. With today’s news, it’s now clear that the Echo was just a first step for Amazon’s broader push into the voice-activated virtual assistant market, competing against the likes of Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Microsoft Cortana. Apple recently announced expanded Siri’s capabilities to control third-party HomeKit accessories, but the voice commands still require a paired iOS device, as well.
By allowing anyone to build a device with Alexa inside, Amazon is pushing to become the dominant, omnipresent smart assistant.