Amazon introduced a new tool for companies looking to build a branded voice assistant on Friday called Alexa Custom Assistant. As the name suggests, the conversational AI platform supports creating a voice assistant customized to a particular brand but supported by the same technology as Alexa. The developers can customize the new assistant’s wake word, features, voice, and other components to match their brand. The company can then integrate the resulting AI into compatible smart devices, mobile apps, or other products.
The benefits of making Alexa the foundation for a custom voice assistant are not hard to spot. It’s a lot faster and cheaper to customize an AI interface than to build one from scratch. Developers can use the existing Alexa Skills Kit much as they would before, only with extra options. Plus, Amazon will always update and improve Alexa’s natural language engine and extend its list of features, which only serves to further benefit the Alexa Custom Assistant user. What makes Alexa Custom Assistant jump out, though, is the quiet cooperation between any branded AI and the larger Alexa platform powering it. When a custom assistant is asked to complete a task or respond to a question it can’t handle, the AI will turn to Alexa for help, even if the custom wake word was used to make the request. If a custom fitness voice assistant is asked to turn on lights, the platform will route the request to Alexa, which will complete it without needing a follow-up. The cooperation goes both ways too, so if the user asks Alexa to do something better suited to the custom voice assistant, it’s the custom assistant’s program that will fulfill the request.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) will be the first to use Alexa Custom Assistant to construct a voice assistant, incorporating it into future vehicles. FCA started integrating Alexa directly into its cars when its Uconnect 5 operating system came out a year ago. Uconnect 5 turned Alexa from an add-on skill to a central component of cars running the system.
“Our customers expect to easily connect with their digital lifestyles wherever they go and today we responded with plans to offer new intelligent experiences built on Alexa’s world-class voice AI technology,” FCA North America COO Mark Stewart said in a statement. “We look forward to the expanding partnership with Amazon and the integration of Alexa Custom Assistant within our powerful Uconnect system as we continue on our path to put customer needs and expectations at the center of everything we do.”
Alexa’s expansion into white-label conversational AI sets the stage for more intense competition as Amazon is much more directly in competition with third-party custom AI platforms like SoundHound and Nuance, as well as Nuance’s automotive-focused spin-off Cerence, a company that FCA chose less than a year ago to power its voice recognition technology. The conversational AI industry was accelerating anyway, but Amazon beginning to experiment in selling Alexa without ‘Alexa’ but with the option to call on Alexa’s resources as needed, will likely make the competition far fiercer.