Amazon is releasing the high-performance far-field microphone array and voice processing technology used in its Alexa virtual assistant to third-party commercial device manufacturers under a new invitation-only program.
The Amazon Alexa 7-Mic Far-Field Development Kit will allow outside hardware manufacturers to launch new speakers and other devices that leverage the same technology found in the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot, among other products.
The move comes about five months after Amazon released some of its core technology to outside software developers in an effort to fuel the creation of an ecosystem of chatbots and virtual assistants built on Alexa's technology.
This move shouldn't come as a huge surprise after Amazon said several months ago that it would release some core Alexa technology to developers in the name of building an Alexa ecosystem. The e-commerce giant also opened an Alexa skills marketplace and an Alexa-focused accelerator program, so it's clearly exploring every possible way of expanding Alexa's influence as far and as wide as possible.
Amazon Alexa Director Priya Abani explained in a company statement that other companies have been asking Amazon since it introduced the fast-selling, Alexa-powered Echo to share some of its technology and tools for use in developing their own similar products. “With this new reference solution," Abani said, "developers can design products with the same unique 7-mic circular array, beamforming technology, and voice processing software that have made Amazon Echo so popular with customers. It’s never been easier for device makers to integrate Alexa and offer their customers world-class voice experiences.”
Why would traditionally hyper-competitive Amazon want to give a leg up to an army of imitators? The e-commerce giant may recognize that in a world already populated with Watson, Siri, Cortana and any other cutely-named virtual assistant you can think of, the key to ongoing success is to license its technology to companies that might do more with it, such as creating new kinds of devices that likely will be made available for sale in high volumes on Amazon in the future.
Amazon does a vast variety of things well, but as a device maker, it is more hobbyist than real pro. While the Kindle was a hit, the Fire phone struck out. The Echo has been a massive hit, however, due mostly to Alexa's core technology. But Amazon isn't going to spend all of its time riffing on new device types and form factors in which to place that technology. With an invitation-only approach to releasing its microphone and voice processing technology, it's clear Amazon aims to have some pretty tight control over what sorts of new devices emerge.