New Alexa Smart Home Developer Tools Enable Seamless Voice Control of Any Device and Any Feature

Rick Carragher Sep 20, 2018
Smart Home API News

Editor's note: we are happy to announce that some of the updates noted below - the new Mode, Range, and Toggle capability interfaces - are now generally available in the US. The associated developer previews described below are now closed. Learn more

Device makers have already connected more than 20,000 smart devices, from more than 3,500 brands, to Alexa. Today, we’re excited to announce new developer tools in preview that make device setup easier for customers and let you extend voice control to any device - from the simplest wall plug to the most complex appliance - and to any feature of your device. With the updated Smart Home Skill API, you can use new toggle, range, and mode APIs as building blocks to model the complete feature set of your device, and combine native Alexa smart home skill utterances and your own custom utterances in a single skill. With Wi-Fi simple setup, a part of the Frustration-Free Setup program, you can simplify customer setup of Wi-Fi devices using the same approach we use on Amazon devices such as Echo and Fire TV. Finally, with the Alexa Connect Kit, you can connect any device to the Internet and Alexa by integrating a hardware module over a simple serial interface, without worrying about managing cloud services, Alexa skills, or complex networking and security firmware.

Use the Updated Smart Home Skill API (Preview) to Add Voice Control for All of Your Features in a Single Skill

We’re adding new capabilities for smart home skills that let you take advantage of Alexa’s native voice user interface (VUI) for more of the features of your device, and extend the VUI with your own custom intents. With these new tools, you can support any smart device you can imagine, and deliver the right voice user interface for all of your current features and any you invent in the future. The updated API, available in preview in the US starting today, allows you to:

  • Use new Toggle, Range, and Mode interfaces to add native voice support for a broad range of smart device features. Alexa already supports the most common smart device features, such as turning on lights and locking doors; these new primitives give you the flexibility to control many more. You can use toggle for features with binary states, range for features with numeric values, and mode for features with multiple, named states. In addition, you can use these building block APIs multiple times for a single device. For example, if you build smart guitar amplifiers, you might use toggle to turn on “overdrive,” range for "gain" and "master" dials, and mode for presets such as “jazz,” “blues,” and “rock.” Your customers could say, “Alexa, turn on overdrive,” “Alexa set the gain to eight,” and “Alexa, change the tone to jazz.” 
  • Add custom intents to complete the voice experience for your customers. You can now combine native Alexa smart home intents with custom intents that you define, in a single skill, to let your device’s features shine through in the VUI just as you designed them. You can support unique utterances and unique features outside Amazon’s native smart home VUI. For example, your guitar amplifier skill can support “Alexa, more bass” or “Alexa, give me that Vox chime” as alternatives to specifying different ranges and modes. You can support utterances like “Alexa, what is a crunch tone?” to provide voice access to help information. You could even add Easter eggs like “Alexa, crank it up to eleven.”
  • Combine all of your native and custom intents in a single skill. By combining native and custom intents in a single smart home skill, you can enable customers to use their voices to easily interact with your devices in all the ways that you can imagine, including unique utterances and branding. Setup becomes easier because customers need to enable only a single skill for your device, and usage becomes easier because customers will be able to say “Alexa, <perform action>” instead of “Alexa, ask <skill name> to <perform action>” for your custom intents.

Several device makers are already developing with the updated smart home skill API:

  • Moen is adding the new toggle, mode, and range interfaces to their U by Moen Shower skill to provide support for simple phrases such as, “Alexa, set my shower to 100 degrees.”
  • Ecobee is moving the intents in their custom Ecobee Plus skill – including equipment status queries and vacation scheduling – into their Ecobee smart home skill. Customers will only have to enable a single skill, and can simply say, “Alexa, is heating enabled?” and “Alexa, return to my schedule.”
  • iRobot is working to enable name-free Roomba intents like “Alexa, schedule a cleaning job with {robot_name}” and “Alexa, schedule a cleaning job for {time} with all of my robots.”

In the coming months, we will also extend our native smart home APIs with additional doorbell, camera, and security system capabilities. You’ll be able to use Alexa to notify customers when someone rings the doorbell, and use Alexa to talk to your visitor. You’ll also be able to use the new SecurityPanelController interface to enable customers to arm and disarm your security systems, and query for system status.

Introducing the Frustration-Free Setup Program and the Wi-Fi Simple Setup SDK and Service (Preview)

Getting smart devices connected to the Internet is still too difficult, which is why today we announced the Frustration-Free Setup program to help remove or reduce steps in setting up connected devices. Last year, we made setup easier with Zigbee simple setup, available on Amazon devices with a built-in smart home hub like Echo Plus and the new Echo Show. Today, we are introducing Wi-Fi simple setup, an SDK and service that helps customers connect smart home devices to Wi-Fi. When a new smart home device that incorporates the Wi-Fi simple setup SDK is powered on for the first time, it searches for and connects to the Wi-Fi simple setup network established by other devices in the home. This network is used to authenticate the device, securely connect to the Amazon Wi-Fi locker, an encrypted cloud credential store, and deliver a customer’s stored home network credentials to the new device. Our goal with Wi-Fi simple setup is not just to simplify setup but also to reduce costs for device makers that come through customer support calls and device returns.

Any Wi-Fi smart home device can host the Wi-Fi simple setup network and any smart home device that has implemented the Wi-Fi simple setup SDK can seamlessly connect to it. The SDK, which has been built for embedded Linux and will be available for other embedded platforms in the future, is provided for free for device makers. We are already working with partners including Wemo, eero, Kasa Smart by TP-Link, and TP-Link to bring the Wi-Fi simple setup experience to devices launching next year. 

Connect to Alexa via a Serial Port using the Alexa Connect Kit (Preview)

The Alexa Connect Kit (Preview), or ACK, gives you the tools to turn any device with a microcontroller (MCU) into a smart device. Simply add an Amazon-managed ACK module to your device, connect it to your device’s MCU over a serial interface, and add ACK interface code to your device’s firmware to interpret control messages from the module. To make the integration as easy as possible, the ACK development kit includes a sample MCU equipped with sample code you can port to your device’s specific MCU. The module uses Wi-Fi to securely connect your device to Amazon-managed cloud services that provide Alexa control, Wi-Fi simple setup, Dash Replenishment Service, and all the device metrics and logs you need to manage devices in the field. With an ACK module on your device, you can focus on building great hardware. ACK provides you:

  • A simple way to connect your device to Alexa. With ACK, you don’t have to build and manage cloud services or write complex connectivity and security firmware. Instead, you simply integrate the Amazon-managed hardware module and production ready ACK code into your device. Basic devices like fans and smart plugs require as little as 50 lines of code to handle Alexa directives.
  • Faster time to market. You can prototype using the ACK development board, sample MCU, and code, and be controlling your device using voice commands in as little as an hour. Once you’ve modeled your device’s physical features with ACK integration code, you’re ready to place production-ready ACK modules into finished devices for testing. By eliminating the requirement to build your own cloud service and mobile application, ACK enables you to get to market in months instead of years, with a smaller development team.
  • High-quality customer experiences. With ACK-based devices, you can take advantage of all the capabilities of the Smart Home Skill API, as well as Wi-Fi simple setup, and the Dash Replenishment Service. ACK’s managed cloud service is built on AWS IoT, and meets the cloud reliability requirements for the Works with Alexa (WWA) certification program.
  • Cost certainty. With ACK, you pay for the hardware module and a low, upfront fee that covers your ongoing use of the ACK cloud service. ACK enables you to turn the ongoing variable cost of managing your own cloud service into a fixed, one-time cost.
  • Extensibility. ACK will offer cloud extensibility points, enabling you to further enrich your customer experience. You can integrate not only with the ACK cloud service, but also with your own mobile application, your own cloud service, and third-party cloud services such as IFTTT. 

We used ACK internally to build the AmazonBasics Microwave announced today. In addition, leading device makers and consumer products companies like Procter & Gamble, Hamilton Beach, Tonly, and Midea are already using the Alexa Connect Kit to develop new devices.

“We’ve been surprised at how easy it is to use the Alexa Connect Kit to prototype devices and create Alexa commands with just a few lines of code,” said Scott Tidey, Sr. Vice President, North American Sales and Marketing, Hamilton Beach. “We look forward to using the Alexa Connect Kit to reduce time to market for new product lines while simultaneously offering more of the features our consumers want.”

Reach and Delight More Customers via Works with Alexa Certification

Regardless of the type of smart device you build, you can submit it for certification via the Works with Alexa (WWA) program. WWA raises the bar on responsiveness, reliability, and functionality, ensuring your customers have a great smart home experience. When your products are certified, they can carry the Works with Alexa badge in the Amazon Smart Home Store and on product packaging. This increases customer confidence that your product integrates seamlessly with Alexa. Visit the Works with Alexa program page for the full list of detailed requirements.

Alexa Smart Home: Improved Tools and Customer Experiences

Amazon is making it easier every day for developers and device makers to create new experiences for customers, and Alexa smart home development tools now provide everything you need to deliver rich, delightful customer experiences for all your devices. We can’t wait to see what you build. Learn more about connecting devices to Alexa.