How long does it take to thaw a 3-pound chicken in a microwave? Most of us don’t know, so we would search online for answers and then cycle through multiple microwave settings, hoping it worked.
It doesn’t have to be that hard. What if you could simply tell the microwave what to do? The Sharp Smart Countertop Microwave Oven makes that possible, in part because of Alexa Connect Kit (ACK), a service for device manufacturers that makes it easy to integrate Alexa into their products.
Using Alexa Connect Kit, Sharp transformed an everyday appliance—first introduced in homes some 50 years ago—to take advantage of voice technology and smart devices. Verbally saying what you want can be a more intuitive experience than pressing buttons, and it’s especially helpful for older people, youth, and people with motor or vision impairments—demographics for whom voice technology has become a game changer.
With the Sharp Smart microwave, customers can use up to 70 voice commands, such as “Alexa, cook butternut squash” or “Alexa, reheat mozzarella sticks.” The technology gives home cooks the ability to stop misusing dozens of power settings that can leave food under-thawed or overcooked. It’s also an invaluable time saver for simple tasks, such as reheating a slice of pizza during a commercial break in the middle of a ball game. The microwave can even set its own clock and automatically adjust for daylight saving time.
“There aren’t a lot of connected kitchen appliances, and each major appliance vendor is developing its own proprietary platform,” said James Sanduski, president of Sharp Home Electronics Company of America. “Alexa allows products to work together, and Amazon made it very easy for us to develop a reference hardware device that was very affordable.”
“Being one of the first movers in this space really helped us gain a competitive advantage,” added Renny Mann, director of product marketing for Sharp.
Alexa Connect Kit simplifies voice integration for all types of devices
Until recently, the range of products that integrated with smart technologies was limited by a few hurdles. Incorporating voice required device makers to develop a new component with Wi-Fi and processing power in addition to firmware—software within the devices that controls their functions—and connectivity software.
Alexa Connect Kit simplifies the process with a compact module that creates a gateway for cloud connectivity and voice control. It includes the back-end services required, which means that device makers don’t have to write special networking or security firmware, set and manage cloud services, or develop an Alexa skill or app. The Alexa service then allows customers to operate the device by relaying voice commands to other Alexa-enabled devices or through the Alexa app.
New to building connected devices? Amazon can help
Sharp’s success with Alexa Connect Kit is the result of close collaboration with Amazon, and it played out over nine months in 2020.
“Our core competency is appliance manufacturing, and our heritage is cooking,” said Mann. “Software engineering isn’t our core competency, so the ability to partner with Amazon and Alexa was great for us.”
That’s something Paul Hegdahl, senior business development manager for Alexa Connect Kit, hears regularly from product manufacturers.
“Alexa Connect Kit is designed to help bring products to market quickly while eliminating the need to manage cloud services on an ongoing basis,” he said. “We’ve greatly simplified the process of building and managing smart home products for device makers.”
Sharp’s first meetings with Amazon were in early 2020. By November, the microwave was in production, just in time for the holiday season. Amazon coordinated product development work with Sharp’s sourcing partner, the company responsible for integrating the Alexa hardware with Sharp circuit boards. Sharp will receive ongoing support for connectivity, software, and updates at a fixed, up-front cost, which is standard in all Alexa Connect Kit collaborations.
Hegdahl said that building with Alexa Connect Kit can make it easy for product manufacturers to achieve high reliability and functionality for their products. These functions help devices meet the high bar Amazon sets for the Works with Alexa and Certified for Humans programs.
“With Alexa Connect Kit, we’re invested in helping device makers find success with their customers and helping customers find innovative, helpful products,” Hegdahl said.