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Amazon Publishes Raspberry Pi Alexa Guide

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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The guide lets users build a voice-powered virtual assistant using inexpensive components

Amazon has published a step-by-step guide allowing tinkerers to build a Raspberry Pi-powered device to access the company’s voice-activated Alexa service.

The guide, published on code-sharing site GitHub by Amit Jotwani, Amazon’s senior evangelist for Alexa, is Amazon’s latest move to promote the service, which competes with better-established rivals including Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google Now.

Echo limited to US

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Alexa can be more conventionally accessed via Amazon’s Echo device, which sells in the US for $180 (£127), or the Echo Tap which is set to go on sale at the end of this month for $130, but both gadgets can only be purchased in the US.

Amazon also provides a free Alexa application for Android and iOS smartphones, but that, too, can currently only be used in the United States.

The Raspberry Pi-based device, by contrast, can be built by anyone with a handful of inexpensive components, including a Raspberry Pi Model 2, available in the UK for around £25, a USB microphone, a MicroSD memory card to store the operating system, an Ethernet cable, and an optional Wi-Fi adapter.

A second-generation Raspberry Pi or newer model is required to run the needed software, according to Jotwani.

The guide explains how to set up the required software on the device and link it to Alexa using a freely available Amazon developer account.

Open access

“This project demonstrates how to access and test the Alexa Voice Service using a Java client (running on a Raspberry Pi), and a Node.js server,” Jotwani wrote. “You will be using the Node.js server to get a Login with Amazon authorisation code by visiting a website using your computer’s (Raspberry Pi in this case) web browser.”

While Echo devices are activated with a voice command, the Raspberry Pi-based unit must be triggered manually by pressing a button.

Unlike its competitors, Amazon has marketed Alexa technology to third parties, with France’s Invoxia building it into a refrigerator last year.

The company’s open approach encouraged individual developers to release Alexa guides for Raspberry Pi in January and again earlier this month.

Raspberry Pi was created by a British charity to encourage young people to learn computer programming. More than 8 million units have been distributed since the first model made its debut in 2012.

The third-generation device, adding integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, appeared in February of this year.

Last year the Raspberry Pi Foundation introduced the Raspberry Pi Zero, the smallest-yet device in the line, selling for only $5.

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