Amazon’s digital AI assistant Alexa allows us to do less and less all the time. She can call for a ride, order a pizza and manage your calendar. Now she can help with one of the most annoying problems facing modern society, a lost smartphone.
A new skill announced Tuesday by TrackR, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based startup, lets people ask Alexa to find their phones for them. In response, Alexa will ring the connected phone, even if it is on silent mode.
“Nearly half of all mobile phone users misplace their phone at least once a week. With the new TrackR skill for Amazon Alexa, customers can now say, ‘Alexa, ask TrackR to find my phone’ and get an immediate answer, rather than ‘Honey, where’s my phone?’ followed by five minutes of frantic searching,” Christian Johan Smith, president and co-founder of TrackR, said in a statement.
TrackR says it has created the first of Alexa’s more than 2,000 skills that deal with lost phones.
TrackR also produces items that can be attached to any item: keys, backpack, wallet or even a bike. Smartphones can be used to locate these devices, and in turn the items they are attached to. And it works both ways. The devices can help people find lost smartphones by ringing them, even when they are on silent mode. These tracking devices are not required to use the Alexa phone-finding skill.
When Amazon first announced Alexa’s skills, it also started a $100 million fund to invest in companies that will push the boundaries of voice-based interaction. As part of that initiative Amazon invested $250,000 to $500,000 in TrackR to help bring its technology to Alexa.
“Now our busy Alexa customers have an additional skill to help them get out the door, and on with their day that much easier – losing your phone between the couch cushions is officially a problem of the past with the new TrackR skill and hands-free convenience of Alexa,” said Rob Pulciani, general manager of Amazon’s Alexa division.
So far, Amazon said, the Alexa Fund has invested in 15 startups, mostly focused on smart home and wearable products. In the next year, the fund’s scope will expand to include areas like robotics, developer tools, healthcare and accessibility.
Last year Amazon opened up Alexa to developers, and Amazon said tens of thousands of them are now working on skills and projects for Alexa. 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.