Amazon probably isn't the first company that comes to mind when you think of innovative gadgets. Not anymore, anyway. Hearing a company is producing a ho-hum smartphone based on Android isn't nearly as exciting as hearing about the Kindle for the first time. But with the Echo, the online retailer does have a cool piece of tech on its hands.

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The Echo, which recently became available for general purchase in the US, is essentially what you get when you stick Google Now or Siri into a plastic tube. While that may not sound all that creative, delivery is everything. Saying OK Alexa (the name of the persona inside the device) out in the middle of the kitchen and having the product pick up from another room is rather impressive, especially when you just want to fire up some background music or search for a recipe.

And now Amazon is opening up its toy to more developers. The company has released a preview of the Alexa Skills Kit SDK, which allows coders to integrate their web services with Alexa using the provided APIs. Amazon does the heavy lifting on the speech recognition front. It just wants you to add on more cool stuff. Amazon's examples of potential functionality include asking what your child's elementary school is serving for lunch and telling your automated vacuum to start cleaning the living room.

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To complete the feeling that Alexa is everywhere, Amazon is also giving third-party hardware makers the ability to integrate Alexa with their products. Imagine an alarm clock that tells you the weather and your upcoming appointments or a car that starts reading you a book while driving. Those are the kind of possibilities Amazon hopes to enable.

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For any of this to matter, Amazon needs people to jump on board. So it is giving out $100 million to support developers and manufacturers who want to take advantage of this opportunity. The tech giant is calling this the Alexa Fund, and it has already made investments in several companies.

Hit up the press releases below for more details.

Press Release

Amazon Introduces the Alexa Skills Kit—A Free SDK for Developers

Developers can now create new skills and capabilities for Alexa, the brain behind Amazon Echo

Developer preview starts today

SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jun. 25, 2015-- (NASDAQ: AMZN)—Alexa is the cloud-based voice service that powers Amazon Echo, a new category of device designed around your voice. Today, Amazon announced the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), a collection of self-service APIs and tools that make it fast and easy for developers to create new voice-driven capabilities for Alexa. With a few lines of code, developers can easily integrate existing web services with Alexa or, in just a few hours, they can build entirely new experiences designed around voice. No experience with speech recognition or natural language understanding is required—Amazon does all the work to hear, understand, and process the customer’s spoken request so a developer doesn’t have to. The Alexa Skills Kit is free—learn more and get started with the preview at https://developer.amazon.com/ASK.

Examples of skills developers can create with the Alexa Skills Kit include:

A hobbyist developer can enable Alexa to access his or her child’s school lunch menu—then, each morning simply ask, “Alexa, ask Ballard Elementary School what’s for lunch today” and decide whether to pack a lunch for the child.
A device maker with an Internet-connected sprinkler system can integrate its sprinklers with Alexa, so a customer can say, “Alexa, ask my sprinkler to water my lawn for 15 minutes.”
A surf report provider can create a new skill for Alexa that lets customers ask for the latest conditions at their favorite break by saying “Alexa, ask Surf Status for my local forecast.”
The maker of a smart vacuum cleaner can create a skill for Alexa that lets customers control their vacuum by saying “Alexa, tell the vacuum to start cleaning the living room.”
A fitness service can enable Alexa to access a user’s workout history, so a customer can say “Alexa, ask My Fitness how many miles I have run this week.”
A baseball fantasy league can make a new skill for Alexa, so managers can simply say, “Alexa, ask Fantasy Baseball to change my lineup and start Felix Hernandez today.”
“When we launched Amazon Echo we immediately heard from developers about the innovative voice experiences they would create if they had access to an SDK,” said Greg Hart, Vice President, Amazon Echo and Alexa Voice Services. “Today, we’re making the Alexa Skills Kit available to any developer, maker, or general hobbyist that wants to invent on behalf of customers, creating new skills and capabilities. We can’t wait to see what developers are going to invent with this technology.”

Creating an Alexa skill is easy and fast. Developers simply write cloud-hosted code that interacts with Alexa’s cloud-based APIs to process customer requests. Alexa does the work to hear, understand, and resolve the customer’s spoken request, and then maps the service call to the developer’s endpoint.

The easiest way to build a skill for Alexa is to use AWS Lambda, an innovative compute service that runs a developer’s code in response to triggers and automatically manages the compute resources in the AWS Cloud, so there is no need for a developer to provision or continuously run servers. Developers simply upload the code for the new Alexa skill they are creating, and AWS Lambda does the rest, executing the code in response to Alexa voice interactions and automatically managing the compute resources on the developer’s behalf.

Here are a few of the developers who are using the ASK to create new skills for Alexa:

Pebblebee, a hardware company making customized Bluetooth trackers and sensors, is using ASK to enable customers to track items and check sensors using voice. “We've learned over the past few years that it’s not always intuitive to use a visual app with so many features. Using voice commands simplifies the complexity for customers,” said Daniel Daoura, Co-Founder and CEO of Pebblebee. “We’re thrilled to use the Alexa Skills Kit to integrate Alexa with Pebblebee’s sensor information, so a customer can simply ask, ‘Alexa, find my keys,’ or ‘Alexa, how warm is the baby’s room?’ or ‘Alexa, is my dog nearby?’”

Intuit, maker of financial software, is planning a reference implementation using Alexa to access Mint.com, the free web-based personal financial management service. “The Alexa Skills Kit allows us to begin experimenting on our vision for voice user interfaces,” said Wolf Paulus, Staff Software Engineer at Intuit. “Since Alexa is cloud-based, as soon as a prompt is spoken, the service could respond with the most up-to-date information, allowing us to quickly provide our customers with updates that are useful to them, like ‘what is my account balance’ or ‘how long until I reach my savings goal?’. We look forward to experimenting with new ways for our customers to access their data.”

StubHub, an online marketplace for sports, concert, theater, and other live entertainment event tickets is using Alexa to enable customers to purchase tickets and more using voice. “At StubHub, we are constantly thinking of ways to make the live event experience easier and more fun,” said Parag Vaish, Head of Mobile at StubHub. “By bringing StubHub’s great experience to Alexa, we’re able to reach more fans by allowing our customers to use their voice to engage with our content to do things like ask, ‘Alexa, ask StubHub what events are happening this weekend near me?’ or ‘Alexa, ask StubHub to send event suggestions to me for tomorrow.’”

Octoblu, Citrix's enterprise Internet of Things platform, is using ASK for voice-activated automation of business tasks, like setting up meetings on Citrix GoToMeeting. “The Alexa Skills Kit provides an ideal solution for our enterprise automation solution, Octoblu,” said Chris Matthieu, Director, IOT Engineering at Citrix. “By integrating Alexa’s robust APIs, Octoblu can now facilitate a wide variety of voice-activated automations, and the advanced, reliable voice technology makes us confident end users will have a great experience. Using Alexa with Octoblu, a customer can set up a GoToMeeting, without having to stop what they’re doing—they can just tell their Echo to schedule it and keep going.”

AOL, a global media technology company that curates content from brands and web sites, is using ASK to enable customers to listen to AOL daily headlines and articles. “Alexa enables readers to access content from across our brands by simply using their voice,” said Drew Lesicko, Head of Mobile Product at AOL. “Using Alexa, an avid reader could have Echo read them their favorite headlines or articles from TechCrunch or news of the day from any of our other AOL properties. This allows us to continue to reach our audience, even if they are not in front of a tablet or computer—an exciting prospect for AOL, and a great use case for our customers.”

Glympse, a mobile service that provides a fast, free, and simple way to share your location in real time with the people you trust from a GPS-enabled mobile phone, is using ASK to enable customers to request location details via voice. “We are always looking for innovative solutions to expand our ecosystem, and Alexa’s cutting edge voice technology was a natural fit,” said Steve Miller, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer at Glympse. “Location information—the question of ‘where are you?’ or ‘when will you arrive?’—is pervasive in daily life. We are excited to use the Alexa Skills Kit to make it even easier for people to request location details by saying ‘where is Bob?’ or ‘when will Jack get here?”

The first new capabilities built by developers using the ASK will launch later this year. The free Alexa Skills Kit developer preview is available starting today—get started at https://developer.amazon.com/ASK.

In addition, Amazon today announced that the Alexa Voice Service (AVS), the same service that powers Amazon Echo, is now available to third party hardware makers who want to integrate Alexa into their devices—for free. For example, a Wi-Fi alarm clock maker can create an Alexa-enabled clock radio, so a customer can talk to Alexa as they wake up, asking “what’s the weather today?” or “what time is my first meeting?” Read the press release: www.amazon.com/AVS.

Press Release

Amazon Opens Alexa Voice Service to Third Party Hardware Makers

A free set of APIs allows developers to add Alexa to their devices—any device with a speaker, a microphone, and an Internet connection can integrate Alexa with just a few lines of code

Developer preview starts next month

SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jun. 25, 2015-- (NASDAQ: AMZN)—Alexa is the cloud-based voice service that powers Amazon Echo, a new category of device designed around your voice. Today, Amazon announced that hardware developers can use the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) to integrate Alexa into their Internet-connected devices with only a few lines of code. No experience with natural language understanding or speech recognition is required. The Alexa Voice Service is free—learn more and sign up to be notified when the preview for developers is available at https://developer.amazon.com/AVS.

Examples of what developers can create with the Alexa Voice Service include:

A Wi-Fi alarm clock that lets a customer talk to Alexa—“What’s the weather today?” or “What’s on my calendar today?”
A car that enables a driver to press the Alexa button on the steering wheel and request anything from Alexa, such as “Read my book” or “Remind me to pick up flowers after work.”
A movie ticket machine that lets a moviegoer say “Buy six tickets for the next showing of Jurassic World.”
A countertop weather station that enables customers to get more information by asking “What will the weather be next weekend?” or “What was the rainfall in June last year?”
A TV that makes finding tonight’s game simple—just pick up the remote and say “Turn on the baseball game.”
A home sound system that lets customers turn on music just by saying “Play my barbeque playlist on the back deck.”
“Today, we’re excited to open up the Alexa Voice Service to any device maker that wants to add Alexa into their products—for free,” said Greg Hart, Vice President, Amazon Echo and Alexa Voice Services. “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. From start-ups to established companies, we can’t wait to see how developers integrate Alexa.”

Alexa is the brain behind Amazon Echo, a new category of device designed around your voice. Echo is hands-free and always on—ask for information, music, news, weather, and more from across the room and get results or answers instantly. Alexa is built in the cloud and leverages AWS to continue to learn and add functionality over time—in the last seven months Alexa has added Pandora, Audible, traffic, sports scores and schedules, control of connected devices like WeMo and Philips Hue, IFTTT, and more. When a developer uses the Alexa Voice Service to integrate Alexa into their device, their product also gets the benefit of updated capabilities that are added to Alexa, thus constantly improving the device over time.

Here are a few of the hardware makers who are using AVS to integrate Alexa into their products:

Wink, the quick and simple way to connect you and the products you rely on in the home, is using AVS to enable customers to control and monitor their connected home using only their voice. “Amazon is helping us create an even more simple and intuitive way to control your smart home—with your voice,” said Nathan Smith, CTO of Wink. “By integrating Alexa into our platform, customers will be able to manage their home—everything from turning on lights, locking doors, controlling temperature, and opening blinds—just by asking. We see huge potential and are excited to make the smart home even more accessible.”

Scout Alarm, a new breed of home security that customers can install and manage themselves, is using AVS to enable customers to manage their home security using voice. “We’re thrilled to use the Alexa Voice Service to integrate Alexa with Scout to support voice control capabilities,” said Dave Shapiro, CTO at Scout. “Alexa opens new ways for our customers to interact with their security system—ways not yet seen in our industry. By simply speaking to Alexa as they leave the home, customers can arm their system, or remotely check in on the security of their home using voice commands. Advanced home security has never been this simple, easy or available to more people; we are excited that Scout customers get to experience the convenience of Alexa.”

Toymail, the creator of Wi-Fi connected toys that send and receive voice messages for families, is using AVS to enable families to exchange voice messages using Alexa. “Toymail creates toys that help families stay connected with loved ones, without more screen time,” said Gauri Nanda, Co-Founder of Toymail. “Using Alexa Voice Service, Toymail customers can use their voice, in addition to our mobile app, to deliver fun messages and content to family members anywhere, anytime. For example, a dad can ask Alexa from the kitchen ‘Tell Ben: ten more minutes before dinner.’ And, we’re excited to add Alexa to our Mailman toys—just say ‘Alexa, read a story’ and the family can enjoy a bedtime audiobook together via the Mailman’s speakers.’”

The free Alexa Voice Service will be available as a developer preview starting next month—learn more and sign up to be notified when it is available at https://developer.amazon.com/AVS.

Amazon also today introduced the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), a collection of self-service APIs and tools that make it fast and easy for developers to create new voice-driven skills and capabilities for Alexa. With a few lines of code, developers can easily integrate existing web services with Alexa or, in just a few hours, they can build entirely new experiences designed around voice. For example, an Internet-connected sprinkler system can integrate its sprinklers with Alexa, so a customer can say, “Alexa, ask my sprinkler to water my lawn for 15 minutes.” Read the press release: www.amazon.com/ASK.

Press Release

Amazon Introduces the Alexa Fund: $100 Million in Investments to Fuel Voice Technology Innovation

The Alexa Fund is dedicated to empowering developers, manufacturers, and start-ups of all sizes who have ideas for how voice technology can improve everyday life

SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jun. 25, 2015-- (NASDAQ: AMZN)—Amazon today announced the Alexa Fund, up to $100 million in investments to support developers, manufacturers, and start-ups of all sizes who are passionate about creating new experiences designed around the human voice. The Alexa Fund—named for Alexa, the cloud-based voice service that powers Amazon Echo—is open to anyone with an innovative idea for how voice technology can improve customers’ lives. Alexa Fund investment decisions will be made based on the potential for unique or novel applications of voice technology that leverage the Alexa Skills Kit or the Alexa Voice Service, which were also announced today. The Fund launches today with seven initial investments. Learn more and apply for funding at https://developer.amazon.com/AlexaFund.

“Experiences designed around the human voice will fundamentally improve the way people use technology,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Founder and CEO. “Since introducing Amazon Echo, we’ve heard from developers, manufacturers, and start-ups of all sizes who want to innovate with this new technology. With the Alexa Fund, we want to empower people to explore the boundaries of voice technology. We’re eager to see what they come up with.”

Amazon also today introduced the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), a collection of self-service APIs and tools that make it fast and easy for developers to create new voice-driven skills and capabilities for Alexa. With a few lines of code, developers can easily integrate existing web services with Alexa or, in just a few hours, they can build entirely new experiences designed around voice. For example, an Internet-connected sprinkler system can integrate its sprinklers with Alexa, so a customer can say, “Alexa, ask my sprinkler to water my lawn for 15 minutes.” Read the press release: www.amazon.com/ASK.

In addition, Amazon today announced that the Alexa Voice Service (AVS), the same service that powers Amazon Echo, is now available to third party hardware makers who want to integrate Alexa into their devices—for free. For example, a Wi-Fi alarm clock maker can create an Alexa-enabled clock radio, so a customer can talk to Alexa as they wake up, asking “What’s the weather today?” or “What time is my first meeting?” Read the press release: www.amazon.com/AVS.

The Alexa Fund is launching with seven initial investments:

Orange Chef is a start-up that has created a new product for the kitchen called “Countertop,” a mobile app that connects to an ecosystem of cooking tools such as blenders and slow cookers to measure and track ingredients placed into those devices—all powered by Orange Chef’s cloud service nutrition database. Orange Chef sees an opportunity to use voice instead of a phone app in recognition of the fact that cooking can be messy and is often a two-handed operation. For example, customers can use Echo or another Alexa-enabled device while using a blender to ask “Alexa, how many calories are in this smoothie?” or, with a slow cooker, a customer can ask “Alexa, how much more barbeque sauce do I need to add to the pulled pork?”
Scout Alarm is a do-it-yourself home security system provider and connected security device maker. The Scout system includes a hub, entry sensors, motion detectors and a smartphone companion app. Now, Scout is using the Alexa Skills Kit to enable customers to tell Echo or another Alexa-enabled device “Alexa, arm Sleep Mode” before going to bed or ask, “Alexa, what were the last five events?” from the comfort of the couch. With Alexa and Scout, there's no need to fumble for a control panel or app to quickly turn off the alarm—just ask Alexa.
Garageio provides a system to control and to monitor the status of a garage door from anywhere. Garageio’s product—the Blackbox—is designed to be simple to install and fits onto existing garage door openers. The Blackbox then connects to the garage door via the home’s Wi-Fi network, and an associated smartphone app gives users control of the garage door from anywhere. Using the Alexa Skills Kit, Garageio is adding capabilities to Alexa that help a customer quickly find out if their garage door is open or if the alarm is set. For example, before falling asleep many homeowners think through whether the doors are all locked, the windows are all shut, and the garage door is closed—if they can’t remember, they have to get out of bed and go check all the doors manually. Now, all it takes is a quick question to Echo or another Alexa-enabled device: “Alexa, ask Garageio, is the garage door open?” If the answer is “yes,” just say “Alexa, tell Garageio to close the garage door.”
Toymail is creating a new category of connected toys that enable parents and children to communicate without the need for the child to be using a smartphone or tablet device. Parents can talk to a child through a toy called the Mailman that has a speaker, a microphone, and an Internet connection. They simply use the Toymail mobile app to leave voice messages that are delivered to their child on the Mailman. Now, with the Alexa Skills Kit, Toymail is enabling a grandparent to say, “Alexa, send a Toymail for Ben…I love you and remind your mom I’m bringing dinner over at 5 pm tonight. I can’t wait to see you guys.” In addition, Toymail is using the Alexa Voice Service to add Alexa capabilities to the Mailman—just press a button on the Mailman to say “Alexa, read a story” for the family to enjoy a bedtime audiobook together via the toy’s speakers.
Dragon Innovation provides a suite of products and services that help hardware start-ups and device makers go from “garage to factory” to make their ideas a reality with a framework that guides them through all stages of production—from prototype through sales. As part of the Alexa Fund, Dragon is establishing expertise in using Alexa Voice Services and the Alexa Skills Kit for new products, and is committed to thinking “voice-first” when working with their customers on new products. Dragon is working with clients to add Alexa capabilities to their devices quickly and easily.
MARA is an intelligent, voice-based running assistant that provides performance data and training information during exercise, serving as a virtual running coach or personal trainer. MARA is using the Alexa Voice Service and the Alexa Skills Kit to give users easy access to information about their workouts. For example, ask Echo or any Alexa-enabled device “Alexa, how many miles have I run so far this week?” or “What has my average pace been this week?”
Mojio is a leading provider of connected car solutions. The company’s device connects to a vehicle’s OBD-II port and extracts driving performance, on-board systems status, and other diagnostic data. Mojio uses the Alexa Skills Kit to enable customers to use Echo or other Alexa-enabled devices to ask “Alexa, do I need to get gas on the way to work today?” before leaving home or “Alexa, where is my daughter driving the car this evening?”, giving them the peace of mind that the car is healthy and the kids are safe.
The Alexa Fund will invest in people and companies with a passion for how voice can improve the way we interact with everyday technology. Areas of particular interest include:

New hardware products for inside or outside the home that would benefit from Alexa’s voice interface.
New features and functionality for Alexa.
New contributions to the science behind voice technology, including text-to-speech, natural language understanding, and automatic speech recognition.
Innovators selected for funding will receive additional benefits beyond financial support. With established business and technology expertise, Amazon will help them take their ideas from concept to the marketplace by offering tools such as early access to SDK capabilities, hands-on development support for hardware or software, enhanced marketing support on Amazon.com, placement at Amazon showcase events, membership in AWS Activate, and more.

Alexa is the brain behind Amazon Echo, a new category of device designed around your voice. It is hands-free and always on—ask it for information, music, news, and weather from across the room and get results or answers instantly. Alexa is built in the cloud and leverages AWS to continue to learn and add functionality over time.

To share your idea and apply for an investment from the Alexa Fund, visit at https://developer.amazon.com/AlexaFund.