Alexa gets around. The voice assistant has been in all types of devices, not just Amazon’s Echo products. You can talk to Alexa in coffeemakers, take it on the road with you, spend the holidays together, and even make it feed your pet. But inside many of those products—at least ones made from 2019 and on—is the same core hardware and silicon. Through a software development kit (SDK) Amazon announced this week, companies can still use Amazon’s cloud services, Alexa apps, and skills, while having greater freedom over the hardware used to deliver those services.
In 2019, Amazon launched Alexa Connect Kit (ACK), which allowed tech brands to use ACK modules, or, as Amazon explains it, “an Amazon-managed system-on-module” integrated into the Alexa device. It runs firmware that enables communication between the product and ACK-managed services, which come courtesy of Amazon Web Services’ IoT business.
Before this week’s announcement, hardware was either a Mediatek WM-BN-MT-52 chipset with an Arm Cortex-M4 processor and MT7697H SoC or an Espressif ESP32-PICO-V3-ZERO, which uses Espressif’s ESP32-V3 SoC. Either ensures that makers of third-party Alexa products don’t have to “write an Alexa skill, manage a cloud service, or develop complex network and security firmware” for the voice assistant to work.
Now, Amazon is letting OEMs and systems integrators build their own hardware modules in an attempt to offer “more control over costs and features.” Partners can use an Amazon-approved SoC and work around that or “apply” to use their own, Amazon said in its blog post. That sounds like a potential bottleneck, but Amazon is also taking applications to give more SoCs the Amazon stamp of approval.
The news brings the potential for greater variety in the parts used in the ever-expanding list of products that incorporate Alexa. That could mean, for example, better battery life. Amazon pointed to customizations like “fine-tuning power profiles by taking advantage of the SoCs’ low-power modes and having better control over peripherals” as possible benefits for products now that Amazon has loosened the hardware reins a bit.