Hands-free with the Alexa Voice Service

The recent update to the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) API allows makers to incorporate hands-free functionality into their builds, a feature previously missing from all but the official Amazon Echo and Dot models. 

Diagram of the Amazon Alexa Voice Service

While adverts for the Echo represent owners calling out to Alexa with a request or question — “Alexa, what is the time?”, “Alexa, order me a pizza”, “Alexa, how do you get red wine out of the carpet?” — any digital maker using the free API from the Amazon Developer team had to include a button within their build, putting a slight dampener on the futuristic vibe of the disembodied Alexa. (We know about this dampening effect, because a bunch of you complained vocally about it.)

With the update removing the press-a-button limitation, anyone using the AVS can now ‘wake’ Alexa with a ‘wake word’, calling out to Alexa, Echo, or Amazon. Thankfully, at least in my household, this choice of wake word means the device won’t be listening whenever anyone calls my name.

We’ve seen no end of builds over the last year as makers begin to incorporate the AVS into their home automation projects and robots. There’s been everything from boats to kids’ builds, retro radios and more, and we even co-hosted the Internet of Voice Challenge with Amazon and Hackster.io this summer.

Winners of the challenge received various awards including Amazon vouchers, Echos, and trophies. A full list of winners can be seen here, but we thought you’d like to see some of the most noteworthy builds, like Roxie the Voice-Activated Pitching Robot by Terren Peterson:

Using a Voice Activated Pitching Machine to Teach

Using the Robot Roxie Alexa Skill to have a voice activated pitching machine. Full details on Hackster.io

Or this Voice Controller K’nex Car by Auston Mathuw:

Voice Controlled Raspberry Pi K’nex Car

Uploaded by Austin Mathuw on 2016-08-31.

And the favourite of sleep-deprived social media editors everywhere, The Coffee Machine by Bastiaan Slee:

Alexa Raspberry Coffee Machine – Introduction

Coffee Machine: Amazon Alexa & Raspberry Pi, my Internet of Voice project. If you want to develop a project like this, read the following site for instructions: https://www.hackster.io/bastiaan-slee/coffee-machine-amazon-alexa-raspberry-pi-cbc613

Other winners include the Mystic Mirror by Darian Johnson and Ping Pong Showdown by Dana Young

One thing I’m looking forward to is integrating the AVS into situations where hands-free truly is the only option. Not only will we begin to see an increase of Alexa-pimped cars, bikes, and drones, but I also see great advances in the use of the service for those with accessibility issues, such as those with mobility concerns or visual impairments. The Smart Cap, winner of the Intermediate Alexa Skill Set category, is a great example. Get in touch if you create something yourself!