I spent the past few days at the Alexa Conference in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I had the opportunity to hear from and meet many of the people behind some of the most cutting edge work happening with Alexa right now. Here are the 5 coolest or most surprising things that I learned.
1. Expect a lot of new features for Alexa in the car
Amazon announced the Echo Auto in September, and since then over 1 million people have pre-ordered it. With Echo Auto, you basically have a very small Echo Dot in your car. It’s about the size of a credit card, sits on the dashboard, connects to Alexa over your phone and plays through your car speakers.
I tried to buy the Echo Auto on Amazon, but it’s currently available “exclusively by invitation.” You can request an invitation by clicking the request invitation button. When I clicked, I got the following message: “We will be sending out invites over the coming months and will reach out when yours is available.” Sounds like I might have to wait a while.
It makes sense that Amazon is focused on the car because way more people use voice assistants like Alexa in the car than on a smart speaker. To be precise, two times more people have used voice assistants like Alexa in their cars (114 million) than on a smart speaker (58 million) according to a new Voicebot survey. These numbers aren’t that surprising for 3 reasons. First, way more people own cars than smart speakers. Second, voice commands are extremely handy when you have both hands on the steering wheel. And last, voice activation has been in cars since 2004 so people are used to it.
2. Alexa games are taking a big leap forward
As I wrote earlier this week, Atari and Chuck E. Cheese founder Nolan Bushnell displayed publicly for the first time St. Noire, a groundbreaking Alexa-based board game. St. Noire is the first game to market from X2 Games, the company he co-founded with Hollywood creative director Zai Ortiz.
St. Noire is a collaborative mystery board game in which players solve a murder in the mysterious and dark town of St. Noire with clues provided through Alexa. What I like best about the concept of St. Noire is that it takes a familiar experience like playing a board game (I play board games all the time with my friends) and makes it more multi-dimensional by adding Alexa.
And there’s more coming in 2019 from X2 Games. Bushnell and Ortiz told the Alexa Conference audience that X2 plans to release 6 St. Noire-like games this year. The games will involve either a board game like St. Noire or card decks. There will be a party game for adults (I’m very excited for this one!), an educational game for kids and some all-around good fun games for families.
3. There’s a cool new company doing audio search for Alexa
What’s audio search? Say you’re a big soccer fan like my husband. There are a lot of sports radio shows and podcasts that cover soccer, but they also include news on all the other popular sports out there. What if you only want to hear the soccer news?
Enter Audioburst. Audioburst can play a personalized playlist containing “bursts” (30 seconds to 2 minutes long) of soccer news from sports radio shows and podcasts. The company’s technology listens to, understands, segments and indexes millions of audio segments every day from radio stations and podcasts. That’s how they’re able to serve up only the relevant “bursts” to users — they are like audio search results. So with Audioburst, you no longer have to listen to an hour-long sports radio show to hear the ten minutes of the soccer news you came for. Pretty neat and novel.
Audioburst has an Alexa skill called News Feed. To start using the skill say, “Alexa, open News Feed.” When you open News Feed for the first time, it will run you through a series of general topics (such as national news, entertainment, sports and business) and ask if you are interested in each one. Then, it will ask if there are other topics you’re interested in, and you can list them.
I asked for tennis, and I got 3 delightfully short audio bursts with tennis news from the past few hours. 2 of the bursts were super relevant and interesting (I learned Maria Sharapova upset defending champ Caroline Wozniacki at the Australian Open!) and one was an interview with a college tennis coach that I skipped over. This is very cool technology, and I’m excited to add News Feed to my daily routine and watch Audioburst continue to expand their reach and Alexa capabilities.
4. Chompers is a great way to get kids to brush their teeth
When I was ready to brush my teeth with Chompers, I said “Alexa, start Chompers” (you don’t actually have to include the “from Gimlet” part).
When I entered the Chompers skill, I learned that it was jokes night! Every night has a theme. The Chompers narrator is a friendly sounding woman (not Alexa) who started the night’s brushing with “start brushing on the top of your mouth on one side.” Then she told a joke. “How does the troll get to work every day? He takes the fairy.” (hahaha) Then more tooth brushing tips (“now switch brushing to the other side of your mouth, but don’t brush too hard”) interspersed with more jokes. And so on until two minutes later I had thoroughly brushed my teeth and had fun doing it!
Chompers counts the times you brush your teeth and celebrates brushing streaks to help parents form good brushing habits with their kids. This is a clever and fun Alexa skill (and I might even brush with Chompers again tonight!).
5. There is an Alexa-compatible bear… that twerks!
Check out this amazing twerking bear. The twerking bear pairs with an Echo device, and then once connected with Alexa the fun begins. The bear dances along to music played through your Echo device, lip-syncs with Alexa spoken responses, reacts to timers, alarms and reminders and perks up when you say “Alexa.” It’s like a little furry friend to go along with reliable but not touchable Alexa.
The biggest downside of the bear is that it only dances to music played through Amazon Music. One thing for Prime members to keep in mind is that your Prime membership does include access to Amazon Music’s Prime package which has 2 million songs.
I’m always sad when the holidays are over, but now I’m really really sad! I’ll definitely be including this bear in my 2019 holiday festivities.