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Backed to Business: Alexa where and only when you want it

At its fall launch event, Amazon may taken its foot on the gas when it comes to injecting Alexa into everyday objects, but the crowdfunding community is intent on keeping Alexa at the ready unless you're ready for a break.

In this edition of Backed to Business, we look at campaigns that take Alexa into two places you wouldn't expect it, and out of the conversation in a few places you would. As always, exercise caution when backing a crowdfunding campaign and don't pledge what you can't afford to lose. 

TALKSOCKET

Alexa may be synonymous with convenience. in the home On mobile devices, though, Alexa is hidden behind locked screens, apps, and buttons, and the ease of summoning it to call your mom, order a burger, or play your favorite tune is suddenly gone. TalkSocket, a Seattle startup that recently partnered with accessory mainstays Otter Products (of OtterBox fame) and PopSockets, aims to end to this vexing dilemma. A PopSocket-like Bluetooth device that can stick to the back of one's phone, TalkSocket responds when you call for Alexa just as an Echo speaker would from your couch.

No one-trick pony, TalkSocket can also be used away from the phone clipped to a backpack strap or, like a PopSocket, used to grip a cup of coffee. It will also work with Google Assistant and other agents via firmware updates. That differentiates it from products such as Amazon's own Echo Loop, which provides more options for easily accessing Alexa on the go.

TalkSocket is available via Indiegogo starting at $69 and is expected to ship next March.

SILVIANO

If there are two things that people love to try funding on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, it's wallets and smart devices. So it's n surprise that both networks have seen their share of cash keepers that have features such as RFID protection and integrated tracking should they stray. Supersizing such a product might lead to something like Silviano, a handsome leather laptop sleeve with a slickly integrated side handle that can accommodate up to a 16" laptop and a few other devices such as a smartphone that it can wirelessly charge.

The Alexa (and Google Assistant) integration comes via the Chipolo app. If you misplace the stylish sleeve and its even more valuable contents, you can ask Alexa where it is and it will show you its last known location. Of course, if you have one of the more recent HP laptops that has Tile integrated or can hold out for new MacBooks that may integrate Apple's rumored AirTags technology, that may be less useful. While all the tech might be new, the company behind it is not. Silviano has been around since 1949 and pursues a direct-to-consumer model to save consumers money on what it claims to be an environmentally conscious process.

The Silviano smart laptop sleeve is available via Indiegogo starting at $129 and is expected to ship in December.

BUZZOFF

Alexa is great to have around when you need it, but some folks would like to go beyond the Mute button to ensure that their conversations remain private. Privacy-focused IoT company Electric Chateau has developed a flexible tool for that purpose with BuzzOff. As easily as one can tell Alexa to play a favorite song, one can tell a BuzzOff-tethered Echo to deactivate Alexa, which results in an (oddly green instead of red) status light on the BuzzOff device. Alexa can be brought back online by pressing a button on BuzzOff or using BuzzOff's companion app.

At just over 1/2-inch thick, the coaster-like BuzzOff slides neatly under most Echo devices and doesn't need its own wall plug as it can piggyback off the one that comes with the Echo. Most Amazon smart speakers are supported, including the Show smart displays, but the Echo Input and second-gen Echo Dot won't work. The company also notes that BuzzOff will fit below the new spherical Echos. More than a voice-controlled switch, you can set BuzzOff to schedule when Alexa can listen in. Most impressively, it can stop all the smart speakers in your home or office from listening at once. Electric Chateau pledges to keep any data it collects to a minimum and hosted only on servers based in the U.S. 

Despite having an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign, BuzzOff can be purchased via the company's website.

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