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Smart Home

Amazon wants to help bring voice activation to non-Echo gadgets

Sensory, which focuses on voice recognition, teams up with Alexa's creators to make it easier for third-party developers to create voice-activated devices.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Say "Alexa," and the Amazon Echo smart speaker perks up and listens for your command. Now, Amazon wants you to control more devices in the same way.

To do so, the online retail giant is collaborating with Sensory, a Silicon Valley company that specializes in voice recognition technology. Its goal: help developers create new Alexa-enabled gadgets that you can activate with a wake word, just like you can with the Echo.

It's been a small sticking point in Amazon's ongoing effort to get its voice-controlled virtual assistant "Alexa" everywhere. That push includes an open-door policy towards Alexa's software -- if third-party developers want, they can add Alexa voice controls to their device for free, and Amazon will help them do it.

Say "Alexa," and this Amazon Echo Dot wakes up and waits for your command. Amazon wants to help third-party Alexa devices pull off the same trick.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The problem? Most of these integrations lack the tech necessary to wake Alexa up by saying her name, so the devices are often left needing users to press a button to get her attention.

The new partnership aims to change that, and ensure a more cohesive and impressive experience across all devices that take advantage of Alexa's cloud-connected smarts -- even ones not made by Amazon. To make it happen, Amazon is leaning on a set of voice models from Sensory's speech recognition suite. The models range in size and performance, and can work with a variety of different kinds of devices, including ones powered by battery.

All of the models are available through the Alexa Voice Services for Raspberry Pi project on Github, and accordingly, all of them are designed to fit within the Raspberry Pi's hardware constraints. That means that, after hopping on board, a developer with a Raspberry Pi could create a voice-activated Alexa interface with relative ease, and incorporate it into a larger device.

The Alexa-enabled Nucleus touchscreen intercom.

Nucleus

"Alexa was designed to make it easy for companies like Sensory to build on the service and offer a variety of choices to manufacturers when creating voice-experiences," said Aaron Brown, director of Alexa.

To that end, third-party Alexa products using Sensory's voice models are already arriving to market. One such product is Nucleus, a smart-home video intercom system with Alexa-enabled voice controls. Recently released, Nucleus lets you activate Alexa using the wake-word approach, same as the Amazon Echo and Amazon Echo Dot smart speakers.

More Alexa devices on the market is good business for Amazon, which sees voice control as an inflection point for the smart home, and one that's ripe for exponential growth. With a newly minted rival in the Google Home smart speaker, available for preorder now, along with rumors of a Siri-powered smart speaker from Apple in the works, Amazon wants Alexa to win people over to its platform before the competition gets any fiercer. The more Alexa devices, the more opportunities for people to buy in.

At any rate, it's shaping up to be a very busy, very chatty year for voice-controlled smart-home tech.