It was also a test product when Amazon first released Alexa, its intelligent voice assistant, in 2014. Alexa first appeared on Echo, which in itself was a weird device released without any warning or expectation. However, Amazon's ambitions erupted as it became more popular and millions of people began laying smartphones at home. The company saw an opportunity to build a brand new "voice-first" computing platform that can be anywhere, no matter what you are doing. Amazon began chasing this dream as soon as possible.
Figure 1: The Amazon Smart Speaker Echo is the company's first device to carry Alexa, the intelligent voice assistant
A dedicated team within Amazon is responsible for developing Echo products, including Echo Spot, Echo Show, Echo Dot and Echo Plus. There are also dedicated teams working on Alexa services, a distinctive team that is working to help Alexa take over the world. While Apple and Google are systematically launching their smart assistants, Amazon has hinged the door to the smart speaker market with hinges, making it hard for others to come in again.
Amazon knows that the road to success is not just an Echo device, but it's also impossible for Amazon to create a device that everyone wants to use. In light of this, Amazon created a new division called Alexa Voice Services (AVS), which is responsible for building the hardware and software to make it easier for Alexa to be added to appliances such as ceiling fans, light bulbs, refrigerators or cars. Priya Abani, director of licensing for Amazon's AVS division, said: "You should be able to talk to Alexa, wherever you are or what device you are using. Our vision is to create an Alexa ubiquitous world. & rdquo;
In the past few years, the word "ubiquitous" seems to have been given a whole new meaning. Thanks to decades of processor efficiency, bandwidth reachability and the availability of low-cost electronic products, virtually anything can be connected to the Internet. In addition to cars, trucks and bicycles, there is a wide variety of household appliances, switches, bulbs and fixtures and even your clothes, shoes and jewelery. They are all networked, and Amazon hopes to embed Alexa.
Figure 2: One of the Amazon Alexa development kits that manufacturers can buy to build their own voice control products
So far, Amazon claims it has about 50 different third-party Alexa devices on the market, such as the Ecobee thermostat and Anker's Eufy Genie. In the past two years, the AVS team has been building systems and tools and taking it to new heights, hoping to get hundreds of Alexa devices on the shelves as soon as possible. Stakes are louder than ever before as voice contenders dominance among tech giants. In order to win the victory, Amazon formed its own corps.
When Albany joined Amazon in 2016, she found herself constantly talking the same way: every company wanted to add sound to their products, but no one knew how to do it. She recalled: "For the first four months, all I did was sit with the business development team and wondered how many meetings were opened. & rdquo;
These companies include thermostat manufacturers who know the importance of temperature control but do not know the speech recognition. Also includes lighting companies who know how to optimize LED technology but do not know how to set up a microphone array. Abani said while Amazon has solved these problems by building Echo. She said: "I assumed the job of understanding all the different components that needed to add sound to your product, packaged it, and spread it to the world. & rdquo;
They build the toolkit out of all the components you need to get started and package the right software in a single document, even working with chipmakers like Intel to build support for Alexa on the CPU. Now, two years have passed and if you want Alexa to support your product, you just have to buy a special tool.
Amazon offers seven different development kits, each priced from hundreds of dollars, each for a specific product type kit. The first version of the kit developed by Amazon has two microphones that are very similar in layout to Echo. Al Woo, product manager at the AVS team, said: "It has the same microphone array as Echo, and uses the same technology on algorithms and wake-word engines. This is the best option if there are other companies that want to develop a product that is as close as possible to the performance and functionality of the Echo device. & rdquo;
Al Woo's gadgets have completely exposed motherboards and wires, but Alexa is ready to run. With it, developers can complete the Alexa integration for preparing presentations in less than half an hour. In each development kit, Amazon provided the instructions it needed to purchase a matching microphone and processor. The kit helps developers get their prototype and test equipment up faster without hiring a lot of speech-recognition experts or testing thousands of different microphones.
Amazon wants to make speech as much plug-and-play hardware as possible, adding it to virtually any device. Anyone should be able to buy a specific development kit, build a product, download Alexa software, and run it without any technical expertise or with the help of Amazon. Amazon may not even know the product's existence until it is available.
Figure 3: The Sol lamp, made by GE, is a smart LED lamp with built-in voice assistant Alexa
Now, while voice technology is still in its early stages of development, Amazon wants it to be used in most AVS products. For now, this is fine, Amazon is still in the learning stage. It is working with partners like Sonos to find out how to optimize Alexa's musical skills and then deliver the results to all future partners. The AVS team is also working to make Alexa appear on the new device with products such as the Alexa Mobile Accessories Kit (AMAK).
With AMAK, Bluetooth accessories like headphones and smartwatches connect to Alexa via a smartphone. Alexa will also appear on personal computers around the world, providing far-field speech recognition similar to Echo. All the necessary software and information can be found on the Amazon website.
Another Amazon job (at least for now) is to make sure Alexa does well on every piece of equipment. Even with a variety of development kits and software, many other manufacturers are still making a lot of adjustments and adaptations, making Amazon think it necessary to take the final steps to ensure that Alexa's experience can work on any device. The AVS team knows that when people have a bad Alexa experience, they do not blame poor microphone layout or audio transparency, but instead blame Alexa. Pete Thompson, vice president of Amazon's AVS division, said: "We want to make sure there is no question of whether or not Alexa is valid. & rdquo;
Alexa's performance is the focus of JR's work. JR stands for Junior Rover, a custom robot that tests third-party devices to make sure Alexa is working. The Junior Rover is a small rotary machine with an orange base, four wheels, a top platform that can handle 22.6 kg and can be extended to a height of 1.8 meters. Microsoft Surface for this device provides a quad-bracket. Surface wallpaper JR cartoon characters, a bit like the 2018 Thomas Thomas look like the locomotive.
JR's office is a windowless, soundproofed room in Sunnyvale's office in the Amazon hardware group Lab126. This is where the Amazon team created Echo and the site where the AVS team is trying to spread Alexa around the world. The building itself is like the office you find anywhere in Silicon Valley, where you can find a law firm next door with massage parlors and dentist's offices next to it. In addition to strict security measures and Amazon domineering exposed sign.
When the device with the built-in Alexa is coming to Amazon, it's first sent to Sunnyvale, where it goes directly to JR Labs, someone puts it on the lab's desk, and JR talks to it. The robot moved around the tape around the table on the floor and stopped at the same spot each time. Each time you stop, the speakers on the JR platform ask one or two questions: Alexa, where is the capital of Jamaica? Alexa, who wrote "The Canterbury Tales"? It speaks loudly or gently in 22 languages and accents.
Occasionally, a MacBook in the room plays white noise on another speaker, simulating a vivid kitchen sound to test the performance of the device. Each question and answer is recorded and scored, and when the test is over, Amazon sends feedback to the manufacturer. This is a broad and in-depth test of how the device works in someone's home.
In the past, these tests required Amazon employees and painstakingly set up and document each interaction. It takes three days or more for each device to perform the appropriate tests. And JR can work day and night, work seven days a week, do not need to go to the bathroom, and do not need sick leave, it can be completed within 6 hours of testing. Amazon is working on building more robots like JR, as well as providing new tests for all Alexa-equipped devices, including devices that they have not thought of yet.
On each wall of the test lab, the AVS team has listed many of the products Alexa currently supports, such as speakers (including unpublished products), thermostats, Lynx robots, and more. Standing in this room, you are surrounded by Alexa. And that's just the beginning, and Amazon wants Alexa to perform better and better, making it ubiquitous and making it the most important and intimate computer in your life. Even if it means helping to create a refrigerator that competes with Echo too much. With Alexa, Amazon is the winner.