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Alexa’s Custom Interfaces hope to augment gadgets, games, and smart toys

Well, Alexa is evolving again. Amazon announced that it’s introducing a new set of developer tools called Custom Interfaces that have a wide variety of applications but seem to be aimed directly at making smart toys for kids, as well as games and dynamic gadgets.

Amazon’s examples are … interesting. You can tell Alexa, “Tell Basketball Hoop to start a game,” and light up the scoreboard. Other examples include using a mini keyboard to turn Alexa into a piano teacher, lighting up keys that correspond to an assigned song and providing feedback on whether you have pressed the right sequence of keys.

Amazon also says you can use the new features to tell Alexa to print out Sudoku puzzles, count and track how many times your dog plays fetch, and use the command, “Tell my drone to fly in a figure 8,” triggering Alexa to play a designated song or tune upon landing.

Yes, it all sounds a little silly but with more than 100 million Alexa-enabled devices out on the market, the functionality enabled by these new Custom Interfaces could be a real boon to developers. Most owners of Alexa-enabled devices like the Echo line aren’t generally imaginative enough to use them for more than checking the weather or playing some tunes while they’re making dinner.

The more that Amazon can encourage users to utilize the interactivity that Alexa can enable, the more customers they can attract, not to mention empowering skill developers to use their imaginations to make more and more complex attractions for customers.

Amazon tells us that the benefits of Custom Interfaces include empowering skill developers with new functionalities and refreshed content to enhance the experience of interacting with Alexa. Custom Interfaces support direct communication between a developer’s product and Alexa, removing the burden of creating a device cloud and managing customer accounts, creating dynamic and extended story-driven interactions between customers and their speaker, and support for a wider array of products.

Amazon also revealed that it has launched a private beta for Custom Interfaces projects aimed at kids. All products on Alexa that are targeted at children under the age of 13 already must have an accompanying kid skill, as well as requiring permission from a parent before kid skills can be activated — that’s in line with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. However, the functionality of Custom Interfaces could be a gold mine for developers who are targeting this particular demographic — educational products are just one line but skills can also be tied to specific action figures, toys, role play, and other smart toys.

To help developers get started using Custom Interfaces, Amazon dumped a bunch of sample projects online that can serve as a guide for those building skills using Raspberry Pi and Python-based software. From there, users can amplify their new Alexa toy using the Alexa Gadgets Toolkit, enabling Alexa to trigger behaviors like speech responses, timers, alarms, reminders, and songs from Amazon Music.

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