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“We live in a world where convenience is king” – Peter Besen, CEO of Blink

Our homes got a lot smarter with the launch of Echo (speaker) by Amazon Inc. Amazon Echo is a hands-free speaker you control with your voice. Echo connects with a Cloud Based Voice Service (Alexa) to play music, provide information, news, sports scores, weather, and more—instantly. All you have to do is ask. 

Echo is always listening for interaction through the microphone and the word that it is looking for is ‘Alexa’ which is the default wake word.  Any command beginning with its name is the way to grab its attention and connects it to Alexa.  

Alexa comes with a set of functionalities (called Skills) with which it can do some pretty amazing things like play music, which is just the tip of the iceberg to booking an uber or changing the thermostat. It only takes 1-1.5 seconds for Alexa to respond to any command. 

What are Alexa Skills?

At the time of launch, Alexa had limited functionalities(Skills), but soon they grew from 135 to 1000 in June to 4000 today. How was this possible? The key to this exponential increase was the Alexa Skills Kit, which is a collection of APIs and tools available to developers to use the voice controlled Alexa service to run commands on their service. Any cloud connected device could be controlled via the voice assistant by using the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK).

Integration into applications or mobile devices is possible after the release Alexa Voice Service (AVS) which has given corporates and startups an opportunity to integrate Alexa.

Developers can create custom skills using ASK and utilize that skill to control any particular internet connected device by AVS.

What is the difference between ASK and AVS?

Alexa Skills Kit is used when you want Alexa to perform a task via voice. For example, You give a command, “Alexa, book an uber for 9AM from Hauz Khas, New Delhi to CyberHub, Gurugram.

For Alexa to perform this skill (function), it has to be linked with the Uber skills API which interprets the request and sends a message to the skills adapter that will book an uber. It will book an uber for you by sending a message to the Uber Skill API and receive a response in return whether the command was successful or not. Alexa responds to the customer by saying OK to indicate that the request has been completed.

Contrary to this, the Alexa Voice Service is used when you want to book an uber from the mobile application that you installed on your device.  Here you are giving the voice command to Alexa voice service directly through the uber application.

Alexa is a cloud based voice service with its brains in the cloud, not on the device. Hence, it is platform independent. The cloud based service allows the Amazon team to continue improving the technology remotely. The beauty of cloud service is that it has unlimited storage with your device storage untouched. Any software integrations are done automatically.

An advantage that Alexa has over Siri, Google Now also known as OK Google’ or any other voice based assistants is that it is platform independent (independent of iOS, Android or Windows) which makes it easy to incorporate in any mobile application.  For Example, a mobile application Lexi lets you speak to Alexa straight through your phone without purchasing any third party gadgets like Echo.

Let’s look at a simple example where you give a command, “Alexa switch on the kitchen light”. Suppose you give a command, ‘Alexa turn on the kitchen light’. Device microphone takes the instructions and sends it to the Alexa service for interpretation.

1.Any command that you give Alexa works through its functionalities also known as skills. Each Skill is linked with an API for that particular command. The above diagram shows  the smart home skills API, as we want Alexa to turn on the light. Skills can be created by any developer who wants users to interact with their cloud connected devices via voice. Here, the cloud connected device is the light which can be switched on-off using voice.  

2.The API interprets the request as ‘TurnOnRequest’ and the device name as “kitchen light”.  It composes a message which is sent to the skill adapter. The adapter interacts with the kitchen light’s cloud.

3.The device’s cloud, interprets the message and signals the device to turn on the kitchen light.

4.A message is sent back to the Smart Home Skills API whether it was successful or not. Alexa uses this response to provide feedback to the user.

In the future…

Yesterday, many of us were switching from one mobile application to another to get things done. Today, we have a personal assistant at our service. All of this, just to make our lives more convenient. Every step that we take into the future, is a step closer to a better  life. Alexa has gone beyond the screens and shifted from looking through a series of mobile applications on our devices to just a voice command. And, she proceeds.

The future of Alexa is very bright as with the launch of AVS and ASK, Alexa is scalable and has a smooth integration. The Artificial Intelligence software has started appearing in many appliances and devices. The more the accessibility of Alexa, the more impactful it will be.

Alexa has been around for almost two years now and it keeps getting smarter as a result of its growing developer community. Smartphones are the next logical step for Alexa.

The prediction is that by 2017, there will be a few 100 million Voice First devices. It is just the beginning of a change in human and computer interactions which is most likely to be 50% via voice enabled AI in the next decade.

Contact: CopperMobile for mobile solutions incorporating Alexa Voice Services

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