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Google invests in startups to find new horizons for its Assistant

Google's investment program will offer money, advice and insider access to promising startups that can push the boundaries of Google Assistant.


Google wants startups to improve your smart speaker.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Google's turning to the little guy to help Google Assistant reach its full potential. The search giant announced a new investment program on Wednesday that will offer funds, advice, marketing and more to startups that can expand the abilities of Google's digital helper.

Google Assistant is best known as the virtual, voice-powered assistant of your Google Home smart speaker or your Android phone. Since Google Assistant launched alongside Google Home in the fall of 2016, Google has done an admirable job of expanding its virtual helper's capabilities to keep up with the ever-growing reach and abilities of its main rival -- Amazon's Alexa. Now, Google's looking for help in figuring out what the Assistant can do next.

Google already opened its Assistant to third-party developers in 2017 and provided a platform for them to create custom software commands called "actions." This new program offers more tangible and immediate benefits to startups that can come up with new features, new hardware or even new applicable industries for Google Assistant.

As detailed in Google's blog post, startups can apply here, and benefits of the program include investment funds, guidance from Google engineers, early access to Google's features and tools, promotion from Google's marketing team and access to the Google Cloud Platform.

The first four investments include two companies meant to improve communication between people and digital assistants, one company building an AI English tutor and another building an automated hotel concierge.

We recently took a tour of one of Amazon's labs where they test and foster third-party products. Both companies are obviously trying to expand their network of creative contributors to improve their own software and gain an edge in the escalating assistant battle.

For now, here's everything you need to know about Google Home. Also check out this guide to picking the right smart speaker for you, then take this quiz to figure out which major smart assistant suits you best.