Amazon, Intel partner on smart speaker reference design for Alexa products

At re:Invent, Amazon illustrated how the Alexa ecosystem is flourishing, make voice the next commonplace user interface.

Committed to making voice the user interface of the smart home, Intel and Amazon are working together on a reference design for Alexa-based products, the two companies announced at the re:Invent conference in Las Vegas.

The first products based on the reference design will hit the market in the first quarter of 2017, said Gregory Bryant, corporate vice president and GM at Intel.

Intel is on a mission to help deliver highly-responsive, near-autonomous conversational AI within the home, he said. "We're on the threshold of making that a reality."

Intel is making two big bets, he said, that will help accomplish that: Rearchitecting the home network over the next five years that can support the exploding number of connected devices, as well as developing SOCs, platforms and reference designs that sit on top of that network.

For Amazon, Intel's help will accelerate the growth of Alexa ecosystem. At Alexa's initial release in November 2014, it had just 13 Amazon-built skills. Now, there are more than 5,000, said Alexa Head Scientist Rohit Prasad. The popularity of smart home functions, he said, was one of the biggest surprises to the Alexa team in its early days.

Now, however, as technology advances the number of services consumers interact with, it becomes almost "unimaginable" to do so through traditional interfaces like a desktop or even smartphones, Prasad said.

Amazon announced other steps it's taking to nurture the Alexa ecosystem, including the expanded Alexa Skills Set "built-in" library. In the coming weeks, Amazon will make available hundreds of new "built-ins" to help developers build in common requests into their Alexa skill sets. The "built-ins" comprise intents (such as "Stop" or "Help") and slot types (such as Date or City).

Prasad also announced the Alexa Accelerators program, in which new companies will be matched with mentors from Amazon and the startup accelerator Techstars.

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