Amazon offers its voice-recognition smarts to other companies

Because there's no point asking Alexa anything if she can't understand you.

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Amazon's Alexa has become the flag-bearer for AI assistants. Not only does she possess an exhaustive list of useful skills, but she's also started finding new homes in everything from phones to cars, watches, little robots and even refrigerators. There's a reason Amazon's Echo and Echo Dot speakers are particularly suited for ordering Alexa around at home, though. They both feature a fancy far-field, seven-microphone setup and audio processing smarts that help Alexa understand your muffled commands shouted from the downstairs bathroom. Today, Amazon's announced it's releasing this mixture of hardware and software in a new development kit, so other companies can build Alexa prisons that recognize you want to add mixed spices to your shopping list, and not listen to a Spice Girls mix (liar).

The seven microphones take care of omnidirectional listening, while Amazon's proprietary noise reduction, echo cancellation and wake-word recognition software turns your mumbling into intelligible commands. For reference, Google Home uses just two microphones, while Lenovo's Smart Assistant (with Alexa) features eight. Amazon's development kit isn't available to workshop hobbyists, instead being reserved for "commercial device manufacturers through an exclusive, invite-only program." Still, between this and Intel's smart speaker reference design, companies pretty much have everything they need to quickly develop their own Echo-like hardware and give consumers even more ways to ask Alexa to play that Spice Girls mix already.

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