If your hardware device has a microphone and a speaker, and it's connected to the internet, Amazon would like to have a word with you. Actually, the company wants you to have words with it.
AVS is free. Not only that, Amazon is investing up to $100 million in the Alexa Fund. On the company's site, Amazon describes the fund's purpose as to "support developers, manufacturers, and start-ups of all sizes who are creating unique and innovative experiences designed around the human voice."
So, if you have a hardware device of the class that meets the criteria, and uses AVS to get results, you may find Amazon willing to invest.
Right now, AVS is in "developer preview," which means it does not have the full functionality that Amazon thinks it will eventually attain on full release.
This developer preview of AVS basically has the capabilities that are currently present in the Echo device.
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These include a customizable news briefing, music from Amazon Music and IHeartRadio, traffic updates, and Wikipedia access.
"With the developer preview, you get access to a collection of self-service tools, documentation, and APIs and code samples to enhance your device and delight your customers with new voice experiences," according to Amazon. "Alexa includes access to information, music, audiobooks, news, weather, traffic and more, including any custom skills you create using the Alexa Skills Kit to differentiate your device."
Amazon also says that AVS will scale simply, since it is cloud-based.
Additionally, all the processing needed for "natural language understanding" is done by AVS. The actual speech waveform captured by a device is what gets passed to AVS, which returns text to the device.
AVS questions and answers are currently sparse on the Amazon developer forums.
However, it seems that one capability needed by a developer is not yet functional. Trying to use AVS to control another device is not possible in this release.
Amazon noted in the developer notes that control of cloud-based devices through AVS is not yet possible. They say, however, that it will be coming soon.
Amazon has recently taken steps to increase Echo distribution, but only online. It is now available on the Staples website at the same price as it is on Amazon. There is currently no way to get an in-person demonstration of Echo before purchasing it.