When Alexa arrived on the scene a few years ago, it helped usher in the era of mainstream human and computer voice interaction. Today, tens of millions of customers around the world use Alexa billions of times each week. One way Amazon has stoked the technology’s momentum is through the Alexa Fund, which was launched in 2015.
The Fund invests in startups that are advancing the state of the art in voice, smart devices, and ambient computing, which is Amazon’s vision for smart technology that fades into the background and works intuitively on your behalf. The Fund team has also been expanding its investments into new areas like next-gen media and entertainment, including recent investments in companies such as Superplastic, Liv.tv, and Splash.
“Over the years, we’ve been honored to work with a diverse group of founders to help them partner across Amazon and innovate with Alexa and beyond,” said Paul Bernard, director of Corporate Development at Amazon and leader of the Alexa Fund.
For example, the Fund has helped nurture companies like brain-computing startup CTRL-Labs, Cameo personalized celebrity videos, and SPAN smart electrical panels. When it comes to state-of-the-art technology, these companies are just the start.
From “Assisted Reality” to space-inspired showers, many of the companies that collaborated with the Fund brought their products to the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Take a look:
Sweden’s Orbital Systems developed a smart shower that can dramatically cut water usage while delivering a superior shower experience that purifies, filters, and recirculates used water at home.
“I’d been working with NASA to figure out how to use water on Mars missions, and started thinking about ways to apply those ideas to water challenges here on Earth,” said Orbital founder Mehrdad Mahdjoubi. “People wash 100 liters [26 gallons] of drinking water down the drain in a 10-minute shower. There had to be a better way, but we also knew people wouldn’t go for it unless the user experience was the same, or better.”
At the CES 2023 Amazon Experience exhibit, Orbital will demo its “my shower” experience, powered by an Alexa Routine. Orbital’s shower Routines control immersive music, water temperature, flow settings, and even bathroom lighting with customized presets and simple voice commands.
Cognixion seeks to help people worldwide who are affected by speech disabilities or cognitive impairments. The company provides affordable and accessible AI-based technologies like the Cognixion ONE “Assisted Reality” headset.
Designed by neurologists, biological-data engineers, speech-language pathologists, and a large group of potential customers, Cognixion ONE enables people with severe speech impediments to use eye-tracking or a noninvasive brain-computer interface (using six disposable electrodes placed on the head, with no hair shaving or gel necessary) to spell out letters on an augmented-reality keyboard that immediately predicts their full intended phrase. Once the wording is approved by the wearer, Alexa can speak it out and interact with others and a variety of other smart home technologies in the environment.
“We want to give people with autism, Parkinson’s, or cerebral palsy, or anyone who has suffered a stroke, the ability to communicate in an affordable, accessible way—and not just improve their lives, but help them really flourish,” said Andreas Forsland, Cognixion’s CEO and founder. “The technology also helps caregivers to refocus on enrichment, companionship, and having fun together.”
After witnessing his mother having difficulties with daily activities in the home as she got older, Labrador Systems CEO Mike Dooley was inspired to build a self-driving, assistive robot—called the Retriever—to provide a helping hand.
The Retriever uses 3D sensors to navigate through homes and do things like carry laundry baskets, fetch water from the fridge, or deliver medications, helping people live more independently and extend the impact of caregivers.
At last year’s CES, Labrador introduced the Retriever and demonstrated its integration with Alexa, earning the company a spot on The Wall Street Journal’s “Best of CES,” list. At CES 2023, Labrador is test demonstrating a proof-of-concept featuring Amazon’s Echo Show 10, which is installed on top of the Labrador Retriever.
“The Alexa integration expanded and enhanced how customers interact with our robot, with a minimal amount of effort on our part. It made so much more sense rather than trying to build out our own voice system. That way, we could focus our development resources on the robot itself,” said Dooley.
Bernard, who leads the Alexa Fund, said the team is thrilled to see the Fund’s portfolio companies demoing their technologies at CES, and impacting the lives of customers in real ways. Moving forward in 2023 and beyond, the Fund looks forward in continuing to widen its investment scope.
“Our Fund can be a real value to customers in so many areas of digital technology,” he said. “That’s why, as part of our efforts to invent on behalf of customers, we’re becoming more intentional about investing in emerging trends across the metaverse, creator economy tools, XR, Web3, and so much more.”