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InfoQ Homepage News Amazon Alexa Enables an Ambient Computing Lifestyle

Amazon Alexa Enables an Ambient Computing Lifestyle

Alexa is becoming ubiquitous in the home through a purposeful Amazon Web Services (AWS) strategy to make Alexa, Amazon's voice-activated service, a central component of an ambient computing lifestyle, according to Dave Limp, Amazon’s senior VP of devices and services in a recent article in the Verge. AWS strategy has contributed significantly to the selling of 100 million devices with Alexa built-in.

Amazon first released Alexa, voice assistant, with the Echo and Echo Dot in 2014. Alexa listens for a magic wake-up word and then in real time records and sends your words to the AWS cloud for processing. Alexa uses automatic speech recognition (ASR) to transform words into text. The text gets processed by "skills" which are subscribed to by the user of Alexa. AWS has built a platform called Lex that Alexa uses for ASR and natural language understanding (NLU). AWS provides Lex to developers, so they can use it to build applications separate from Alexa.

More than 150 products have Alexa built-in, and many are designed to replace existing products made for the home, including thermostats, clocks, and televisions. More than 28,000 home devices work with Alexa, although some require a smart home hub as an integration point. Categories with numerous devices include lighting, outlets, and home security. Anyone with Alexa today can download and use skills from the catalog of 70,000 Alexa skills AWS is hosting, for example, InfoQ’s own Alexa flash briefing integration. As Alexa improves its conversational capabilities, and its penetration into the markets beyond the home, new opportunities are expected to come to light. Alexa Skill Blueprints extends the inclusiveness of the Alexa ecosystem for enthusiasts without coding knowledge. For example, Brian Crum’s recent blog post highlights how anyone can use Alexa Skill Blueprints.

Amazon collects datasets based on customer usage to improve its services. Alexa Science has published over 70 research papers since 2015. AWS has nearly 1400 open positions currently posted online.

AWS is innovating with Alexa using their ambient computing strategy and scientific excellence. For example, AWS learned that it needed the ability to have a spatial perception for Alexa when a user had more than one Echo or Echo Dot device and since the proliferation of devices with the "Alexa Built-in" certification, AWS has responded by extending their Echo Spatial Perception (ESP) to be usable by third-party device makers. AWS has expanded the development experience as well by adding the Alexa Presentation Language (APL). In turn, APL provides the user with a multimodal experience for skills, including elements of visuals and touch.

Amazon is targeting the home for its Alexa device. However, as people become familiar with the presence of Alexa, it will become more available in non-residential settings. For example, Cedars-Sinai has started a pilot project that brings Alexa to the bedside for more than 100 hospital patient rooms. Patients can use Alexa to request service from their clinicians promptly. Additionally, Alexa is making its way into business environments as well, as evident by the collaboration with Microsoft.

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