Alexa is the cloud-based voice service that powers Amazon Echo. Companies can add new skills to Alexa using the Alexa Skills Kit. The Alexa Fund is a $100M investment fund to fuel innovation in voice technology. Both were announced in June 2015.
After the birth of their first son, Joel Wetzel and his wife decided to start running as a way to get out of the house and get healthy. He soon grew tired of squinting at a watch screen on dark mornings or pulling his mobile phone out of his pocket to check his times or adjust settings. He saw a way to combine his passion for voice design with a love of a healthy lifestyle. Joel is the CEO and Founder of MARA, an intelligent, voice-based running assistant that provides performance data and training information during exercise, serving as a virtual running coach or personal trainer. MARA launched as a mobile app on iOS in May 2014 and Joel continues to expand MARA’s reach to new technologies.
Investing in the Future with Voice
Joel has been interested in voice interaction since childhood. He was fascinated by HAL from Space Odyssey, KITT on Knight Rider, Data on Star Trek, and the computer on the Starship Enterprise. It was all science fiction back then, but fast forward thirty years and Joel realized that it was something he could help make happen. MARA is a next generation running assistant for smart running. The name of both the app and the assistant, MARA uses cutting-edge voice recognition to proactively coach runners to reach new personal bests. As a personality, MARA provides motivation, encouragement and even competition. With the MARA app, runners can talk to her using their earbuds, ask questions about their speed, pace, location, duration or the weather, ask for music, and track run progress over time.
“At MARA, our goal is to push digital interaction beyond mere voice commands - to craft conversations, experiences, and personalities,” said Joel. “We were obviously delighted to be selected by the Alexa Fund because our goals are very similar. We want to see voice interactions become pervasive.”
A New Skill for Alexa
Recently, MARA announced their new skill for Alexa. To use the MARA skill on any Alexa-enabled device, customers simply enable the skill in the Alexa App, and enable Alexa integration in the MARA Running Assistant app. Then they can ask Alexa questions like: “Alexa, ask MARA how many miles have I run so far this week?” or “Alexa, ask MARA, what has my average pace been this week?”
“We’re excited to offer a new MARA skill on Alexa-enabled devices. We want to give our customers the easiest possible access to MARA data, including allowing them to access the information beyond the app. Alexa, who is becoming a common household name, is the obvious first step to extend MARA to the living room” said Joel.
The technology to create a skill is simple, but the MARA team spent time defining the right voice interface. It was important to make the conversation natural, with a flow from start to finish. With an Alexa skill, the voice experience for any user is successful because the interaction is seamless.
“I’m really excited to see where this goes. I see huge potential in voice in smart homes and devices. Alexa is an amazing central hub for connecting it all,” Joel concludes.
MARA is an Alexa Fund recipient. Learn more at www.mara.ai.