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Anybody can make a Google Assistant gadget with this new toolkit

Anybody can make a Google Assistant gadget with this new toolkit


Go grab your Raspberry Pi

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Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

Today, Google is announcing the general availability of the Google Assistant SDK. What that means is that anybody can download and run the Google Assistant on a gadget of their choice — Google says it will run well on Raspberry Pi 3 devices and also on Linux.

The obvious use case is speakers, but Google has ambitions to get its assistant embedded in all sorts of different gadgets: phones, watches, TVs, cars, mirrors, and whatever else you can think of. In theory, it will mean that we could see an big number of consumer devices running Google’s voice assistant — taking on Alexa as the go-to chat interface for gadgets.

That’s only in theory, however, as Google is positioning the current state of this SDK as appropriate for people who want to “start building [their] own hardware prototypes” rather than as the kick-off for commercial availability. That will come later, Google says: “Over time, we’ll also be adding commercialization capabilities, guidelines, and technologies.”

Google wants the Assistant to be everywhere

I asked Google what the terms of use would be, and the answer from Chris Ramsdale, a product manager for Google Assistant, is unsurprising. If you want to use the Assistant on an Android device, you’ll end up following the same process phone makers go through. Commercial terms for other types of devices will roll out over the coming year.

Ramsdales notes that “Developers do not currently have to pay a licensing fee to embed the Google Assistant.” He characterized today’s announcement as a “developer preview ... focused prototyping and evaluating.” Google points out one company made a “fun mocktails mixer” (“Okay Google, talk to Mocktails and let me pretend to get hammered.”).

Right now, pretty much anybody can go and start playing around. As you can see in the announcement video below, developers can use the Assistant not just to do the usual Google things, but also to use Actions to directly control the gadget — like telling your dog feeder to drop some treats. On these gadgets, the Assistant can be invoked either by saying “Okay Google” or via a physical button, though Google says that “hotword support, companion app integration and more” will eventually come.

As for the software side of things, not a lot is changing with Google Home and the Google Assistant since things opened up a bit last December. Developers can still create “Conversation” Actions and submit them to Google for review so they’ll work on the Home. “Direct” Actions that control devices need a closer partnership. In terms of raw numbers of third-party integrations, Google Home is still well-behind Amazon Alexa.

But that raw-numbers game may not matter as much if Google can leap-frog Amazon in terms of third-party hardware partnerships — and the race is on to do just that before Microsoft and Apple join the fray. If you’re thinking that this is looking a little like an audio-only version of the early days of the smartphone platform war, I wouldn’t try very hard to disabuse you of that notion.