Firefox makers eye new 'voice browser': They've even built an Alexa prototype

Mozilla, the maker of Firefox, wants to build a voice-powered app that works across multiple platforms.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Video: How Mozilla plans to win back Firefox users.

Developers at Firefox maker Mozilla are working on a new app dubbed 'Scout', which aims to bring voice to the web and offer a voice assistant along the lines of Amazon Alexa or Apple's Siri.

Spotted by ZDNet sister site CNET, Mozilla revealed the Scout project in a session description for a talk at its All Hands 2018 meeting in San Francisco this week.

The session covering Technical Stack Requirements For A Voice Browser suggests how the Scout app might work.

"Hey Scout, read me the article about polar bears," it says. The Scout app allows Mozilla to "start to explore browsing and consuming content with voice", it adds.

The description doesn't offer much beyond that, except that Mozilla is exploring the components it would need to create a voice platform.

Given Mozilla's strong stance on privacy, a voice assistant from the non-profit might offer a more privacy-friendly, AI-powered voice assistant than say, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Microsoft's Cortana.

SEE: How we learned to talk to computers, and how they learned to answer back (cover story PDF)

Only last month Mozilla called out Amazon over privacy concerns it had with the Alexa-powered Echo Dot Kids Edition, posting a petition on its website demanding Amazon explain what it does with data it collects from kids' smart speakers.

A voice browser could also help Mozilla add a new avenue to stay engaged with users as it tries to win back those it lost to Chrome over the years.

Mozilla reveals a little more in other sessions focused on voice, which point to early prototypes that use Amazon Alexa, somehow involve iOS, and integrate with Pocket, the Mozilla-owned read-it-later app that recently was integrated with Firefox 60 to generate sponsored stories in new tabs.

Mozilla revealed Scout's connection to Alexa in a session about its recent AR/VR browser Firefox Reality.

The session, called Emerging: Mixed Reality and Voice Experiences, describes Scout as "a multi-platform tool for listening to web content" that provides the first steps to an "audio-enabled vision of the web".

"[T]he session will present Scout, a multi-platform tool for listening to web content: first steps towards a multi-platform audio-enable vision of the web. Our Alexa and iOS prototypes feature Pocket as a content source. We'll discuss our iterative approach and collaborations with our colleagues at Pocket."

The Exploration and Discovery for Voice Assistants session also mentions Scout, and notes that Mozilla is pursuing a "speech and language assistant".

Previous and related coverage

Firefox 60 lands: It's world's first browser to give you password-free logins, says Mozilla

Firefox becomes first browser to support the Web Authentication API, taking the world closer to no-password logins.

Firefox 60 will show 'sponsored stories' but you can disable them, says Mozilla

Firefox users will soon start to see sponsored stories in new tabs, but Mozilla says it will respect users' privacy.

Mozilla launches new effort to lure users back to the Firefox browser

With a revamped browser and a nonprofit mission focused on privacy and user empowerment, Mozilla is ready to strike while the iron's hot.

Firefox makers working on voice-controlled web browser called Scout(CNET)

You could ask the browser, which boasts tremendous accessibility potential, to load a website, and it could read it to you.

Why open source AI voice assistants pose little threat to Amazon Alexa and Apple's Siri(TechRepublic)

An open source AI tool called Mycroft wants to challenge Alexa and Siri. But, proprietary AI-driven voice assistants will trump a more open approach, at least for now.

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