Amazon recently released the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), which is an SDK that allows developers to integrate Alexa (the voice service that powers Amazon Echo) into their apps. Amazon has one-upped that offering by making ASK free. Now hobbyists and commercial developers can easily integrate their devices into Echo.
This could enable apps and devices to (via Echo):
- Ask their device/apps a seemingly never ending array of questions;
- Use customizable news feeds, which can keep users up to date on headline news and podcasts;
- Play and buy music from Amazon Music (and even integrate with Amazon Prime);
- Listen to podcasts, music, and live radio from iHeartRadio;
- Listen to audiobooks from Audible;
- Manage to-do and shopping lists;
- Get traffic updates;
- Check weather for any location around the world;
- Access Wikipedia articles;
- Check appointments in Google Calendar;
- Set voice-activated triggers for recipes created in If This Then That (IFTTT); and
- Make use of the free Alexa companion app (available on Fire OS, Android, iOS, and desktop browsers).
Because this is a RESTful API, ASK can be applied to just about any kind of device or app. In fact, ASK can even be used with Raspberry Pi. Imagine the possibilities presented by bringing the Amazon Internet of Things to such devices and developers!
With ASK, Amazon just bested the great and powerful Google. Yes, Google has an incredibly powerful tool in Google Now, but extending that service outside of Android apps isn't something any developer can tackle. Amazon, on the other hand, has pretty much opened the floodgates and said, "Anyone can develop a device that connects to our Internet of Things."
Here are examples of what is already being done with ASK:
- Pebblebee (manufacturers of Bluetooth trackers and sensors) is using ASK to enable customers to track products via voice.
- Intuit is working on a voice-activated tool to be used with Mint.com.
- StubHub is working with ASK to enable users to be able to purchase tickets to sporting events, concerts, and more via voice.
- Octoblu (the Citrix enterprise Internet of Things platform) is working with ASK to enable the automation of business tasks via voice.
- AOL is using ASK to enable customers to listen to AOL daily news and feeds.
- Glympse is a mobile service that provides a simple way to share your location in real time is using ASK to enable users to request locations via voice.
The Alexa Fund
Amazon is also investing $100 million with the Alexa Fund to help support developers, manufacturers, and startups who are creating unique innovations with ASK. The Alexa Fund will support:
- Hardware products for the home that would benefit from Alexa's voice interface;
- Innovations that deliver new abilities to Alexa-enabled devices; and
- New contributions to the science behind voice technology (text to speech, natural language understanding, and automatic speech recognition).
There is already a growing list of small companies that have benefited from the Alexa Fund such as a company called Orange Chef, which is expanding the Internet of Things into the professional kitchen.
If you have a product that could benefit from Alexa, you can apply for the Alexa Fund.
Amazon is serious about expanding the reach of Alexa and Echo. Whether you're a company working on the next big voice activated thing or if you're a lone developer with a Raspberry Pi and an inspired idea, all you have to do is ASK and you'll have everything you need to expand into the realm of Amazon's Echo technology.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.