Amazon Alexa, which is also known as Alexa is a virtual assistant Artificial intelligence made by AMAZON. Alexa has the ability to interact with the voice, it is also capable of making a to-do list, music playback, setting alarms, playing audiobooks, providing weather forecast, streaming podcast, traffic, sports and other real-time information like news. It was first used in the Amazon Echo and the Amazon Echo Dot smart speakers developed by Amazon Lab126

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Alexa also has the ability to control several smart devices using itself as a home automation system. Users are able to improve the Alexa capabilities by installing “skills” (additional functionality developed by third-party vendors, in other settings more commonly called apps such as weather programs and audio features).

Some Alexa enabled device requires it, user, to say a wake-up word such as “ALEXA” or “ALEXA WAKE“. Other devices requires the user to press a button to turn on Alexa’s accessibilities and listening mode. Currently, interactions with Alexa is available in many languages such as English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese and Hindi. In Canada, Alexa is available in English and French (with the Quebec accent).

As of November 2018, Amazon had more than 10,000 employees working on Alexa and related products. In January 2019, Amazon’s devices team announced that they had sold over 100 million Alexa-enabled devices.

In September 2019 many new devices were launched by Amazon, achieving many records while competing with the world’s smart home industry. The new Echo Studio became the first smart speaker with 360 sound and Dolby sound. Other new devices included an Echo dot with a clock behind the fabric, a new third-generation Amazon Echo, Echo Show 8, a plug-in Echo device, Echo Flex, Alexa built-in wireless earphones, Echo buds, Alexa built-in spectacles, Echo frames, and Alexa built-in Ring, and Echo Loop.

Alexa’s History

Amazon announced Alexa alongside the Echo in November 2014. Alexa was inspired by the computer voice and conversational system on board the Starship Enterprise in science fiction TV series and movies, beginning with Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation. The name Alexa was picked by developers because it has a hard consonant “X”, making it recognized with higher precision. They have said the name is reminiscent of the Library of Alexandria, which is also used by Amazon Alexa Internet for the same reason. In June 2015, Amazon announced the Alexa Fund, a program that would invest in companies making voice control skills and technologies. The US$200 million fund has invested in companies including Jargon, ecobee, Orange Chef, Scout Alarm, Garageio, Toymail, MARA, and Mojio. In 2016, the Alexa Prize was announced to further advance the technology.

A companion app is available from the Apple App Store, Google Play, and Amazon Appstore. Only users with Alexa-enabled devices can make use of this app to install skills, control music, manage alarms, and view shopping lists. It also allows users to review the recognized text on the app screen and to send feedback to Amazon concerning whether the recognition was good or bad. A web interface is also available to set up compatible devices (e.g., Amazon Echo, Amazon Dot, Amazon Echo Show).

Amazing Functions of Amazon Alexa

As mentioned earlier, Alexa can perform a number of pre-set functions out-of-the-box such as set timers, share the current weather, create lists, access Wikipedia articles, and many more things. Users say a designated “wake word” (the default is simply “Alexa”) to alert an Alexa-enabled device of an ensuing function command. Alexa listens for the command and performs the appropriate function, or skill, to answer a question or command. Alexa’s question-answering ability is partly powered by the Wolfram Language. When questions are asked, Alexa converts sound waves into text which allows it to gather information from various sources. Behind the scenes, the data gathered is then parsed by Wolfram’s technology to generate suitable and accurate answers. Devices with built-in Alexa can stream music from the owner’s Amazon Music accounts and have built-in support for Pandora and Spotify accounts. Alexa can also play music from streaming services such as Apple Music and Google Play Music from a phone or tablet.

In addition to performing pre-set functions, Alexa can also perform additional functions through third-party skills that users can enable. Some of the most popular Alexa skills in 2018 included “Question of the Day” and “National Geographic Geo Quiz” for trivia; “TuneIn Live” to listen to live sporting events and news stations; “Big Sky” for hyper-local weather updates; “Sleep and Relaxation Sounds” for listening to calming sounds; “Sesame Street” for children’s entertainment; and “Fitbit” for Fitbit users who want to check in on their health stats. In 2019, Apple, Google, Amazon, and Zigbee Alliance announced a partnership to make smart home products work together.

Advanced Technology skills

As of April 2019, Amazon had over 90,000 functions (“skills”) available for users to download on their Alexa-enabled devices, a massive increase from only 1,000 functions in June 2016. Microsoft’s AI Cortana became available to use on Alexa enabled devices as of August 2018. In 2018, Amazon rolled out a new “Brief Mode,” wherein Alexa would begin responding with a beep sound rather than saying, “Okay,” to confirm receipt of a command. On December 20, 2018, Amazon announced a new integration with the Wolfram Alpha answer engine, which provides enhanced accuracy for users asking questions of Alexa related to math, science, astronomy, engineering, geography, history, and more.

Home automation Edit

In the home automation space, Alexa can interact with devices from several manufacturers including SNAS, Fibaro, Belkin, ecobee, Geeni, IFTTT, Insteon, LIFX, LightwaveRF, Nest, Philips Hue, SmartThings, Wink, and Yonomi. The Home Automation feature was launched on April 8, 2015. Developers are able to create their own smart home skills using the Alexa Skills Kit.

In September 2018, Amazon announced a microwave oven that can be paired and controlled with an Echo device. It is sold under Amazon’s AmazonBasics label.

Ordering Edit

Take-out food can be ordered using Alexa; as of May 2017 food ordering using Alexa is supported by Domino’s Pizza, Grubhub, Pizza Hut, Seamless, and Wingstop. Also, users of Alexa in the UK can order meals via Just Eat. In early 2017, Starbucks announced a private beta for placing pick-up orders using Alexa. In addition, users can order meals using Amazon Prime Now via Alexa in 20 major US cities. With the introduction of Amazon Key in November 2017, Alexa also works together with the smart lock and the Alexa Cloud Cam included in the service to allow Amazon couriers to unlock customers’ front doors and deliver packages inside.

According to an August 2018 article by The Information, only 2 per cent of Alexa owners have used the device to make a purchase during the first seven months of 2018 and of those who made an initial purchase, 90 per cent did not make a second purchase.

Music Edit

Alexa supports a multitude of subscription-based and free streaming services on Amazon devices. These streaming services include Prime Music, Amazon Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, Apple Music, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, Audible, Pandora, and Spotify Premium. However, some of these music services are not available on other Alexa-enabled products that are manufactured by companies external of its services. This unavailability also includes Amazon’s own Fire TV devices or tablets.

Alexa is able to stream media and music directly. To do this, Alexa’s device should be linked to the Amazon account, which enables access to one’s Amazon Music library, in addition to any audiobooks available in one’s Audible library. Amazon Prime members have an additional ability to access stations, playlists, and over two million songs free of charge. Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers also have access to a list of millions of songs.

Amazon Music for PC allows one to play personal music from Google Play, iTunes, and others on an Alexa device. This can be done by uploading one’s collection to My Music on Amazon from a computer. Up to 250 songs can be uploaded free of charge. Once this is done, Alexa can play this music and control playback through voice command options.

Sports Edit

Amazon Alexa allows the user to hear updates on supported sports teams. A way to do this is by adding the sports team to the list created under Alexa’s Sports Update app section.

The user is able to hear updates on up to 15 supported teams:

MLS – Major League Soccer
EPL – English Premier League
NBA – National Basketball Association
NCAA men’s basketball – National Collegiate Athletic Association
UEFA Champions League – Union of European Football Association
FA Cup – Football Association Challenge Cup
MLB – Major League Baseball
NHL – National Hockey League
NCAA FBS football – National Collegiate Athletic Association: Football Bowl Subdivision
NFL – National Football League
German Bundesliga 2nd Division
WNBA – Women’s National Basketball Association
German Bundesliga 1st Division

Messaging and Calls Edit

There are a number of ways messages can be sent from Alexa’s application. Alexa can deliver messages to a recipient’s Alexa application, as well as to all supported Echo devices associated with their Amazon account. Alexa can send typed messages only from Alexa’s app. If one sends a message from an associated Echo device, it transmits as a voice message. Alexa cannot send attachments such as videos and photos.

For households with more than one member, one’s Alexa contacts are pooled across all of the devices that are registered to its associated account. However, within Alexa’s app, one is only able to start conversations with its Alexa contacts. When accessed and supported by an Alexa app or Echo device, Alexa messaging is available to anyone in one’s household. These messages can be heard by anyone with access in the household. This messaging feature does not yet contain a password protection or associated PIN. Anyone who has access to one’s cell phone number is able to use this feature to contact them through their supported Alexa app or Echo device. The feature to block alerts for messages and calls is available temporarily by utilizing the Do Not Disturb feature.

Business Edit

Alexa for Business is a paid subscription service allowing companies to use Alexa to join conference calls, schedule meeting rooms, and custom skills designed by 3rd-party vendors. At launch, notable skills are available from SAP, Microsoft, and Salesforce.

The list of commands that Alexa can understand seems to grow on a daily basis. Amazon calls these “skills,” and now you can even create your own skills through Amazon Blueprints. Upon review from Amazon, you can even publish your own skills in the Amazon Skills Store for other people to use on their Alexa devices. The number of tasks that Alexa can accomplish is clearly more than we can list in this article, but here are some of our favourites:

*Find recipes and give you audible step-by-step directions with the AllRecipes skill.
* Narrate a Kindle book.
*Get movie showtimes or sports schedules.
*Order pizza and find nearby restaurants.
*Pay your bills with the Capital One app.
*Order pretty much anything online.
*Get pregnancy advice.
*Track your Amazon packages.
*Get long-form news updates (soon to be in a newscaster voice).
*Have Alexa read you your emails.
*Set up location-based reminders (“Alexa, remind me to thaw the chicken when I get home.”)
*Have Alexa interact with visitors through your Ring Doorbell (upcoming).
*Have Alexa make your home more secure with features like Alexa Guard and Away Mode.
Alexa also has the ability to set up “routines,” where a single command that you set to say, “Alexa, goodnight,” shuts off the lights, locks your front door, sets an alarm for a time you set, and sets your coffee pot to turn on at a certain time. Routines continue to improve too, and you can now have Alexa turn on the lights, wait 10 minutes, and then turn on the coffee pot. If you don’t want to wake your partner, Alexa has a whisper mode, where she’ll whisper to you and understand your whispers. You can learn how to set up routines in our how-to post.

Amazon is adding new capabilities to Alexa just about every day, with more skills and device compatibility. Beginning in 2020, Amazon is rolling out frustration detection features, so Alexa will be able to understand and acknowledge when you’re getting frustrated with her. If you want to learn more about Alexa, all you have to do is ask: “Alexa, what’s new with you?” and she’s happy to share.

Micah Tom

Micah Tom is a journalist for express info news. He writes on technology and Gadgets.

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