October 25, 2020 at 7:59 am #10031UK SentinelModerator
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Amazon is paving the way for the Alexa-powered robots of the future
Amazon just casually announced a security camera drone that flies around your home. The Ring Always Home Cam is an autonomous drone that is designed to fly on preset paths indoors or when a Ring Alarm detects motion. Yes, a flying security camera.
The latest Ring device is built to be noisy on purpose – so if you’re home, you’ll hear it coming. It will cost $249 when it launches in the US in 2021. And it isn’t the only robot-like smart home tech announced by Amazon during its latest hardware showcase. The new Echo Show 10 smart display, coming to the UK for £240, swivels around on its base to face you using an almost-silent brushless motor.
In other words, remember the Alexa home robot that Amazon was rumoured to be building? Throw in the new AZ1 Neural Edge chip, fresh work on a genuinely conversational Alexa voice assistant and improvements to sound detection and Amazon has just proven that it has almost all the technological components it needs to fill our homes with moving, talking Alexa-powered… friends.
These announcements are a big step towards an Alexa bot rolling – or indeed flying – around the home, chatting to various family members or housemates. Why? Well, for starters, Amazon’s AZ1 neural processor has allowed it to experiment with new speech recognition models such as natural turn taking, in which you could ask Alexa to join a conversation and have the voice assistant respond to multiple people on multiple topics without using the wake word every time, based on audio and (unspecified) visual cues.
There’s also the ability to teach Alexa which settings refer to which modes and commands, with the assistant able to request clarification and confirm that it will remember the connection. And further enhancements to a more natural tone of voice, with tweaks to how words are stressed in a sentence and the insertion of ‘breaths’ and pauses where you’d expect, are joined by voice profiles for kids.
As for the sound detection, Alexa Guard can now detect the sound of a baby crying, a person snoring and a dog barking, on top of smoke alarms and glass breaking, and set up routines based on that information. Of course, features like natural turn taking are both very unlikely to work anywhere near as smoothly at home as they did in Amazon’s pre-recorded demos – we still occasionally struggle with “Alexa, lights on” – it’s a strong signal of where things are heading.
With a slate of more than ten new Echo, Fire TV, Eero and Ring products, though, and after more than 20 last year including glasses and earbuds, it’s clear that Amazon is willing to see what sticks. Some features, such as Alexa Care Hub, which can be set up to alert family members when, for instance, an elderly relative hasn’t interacted with an Echo that morning, live up the idea of a genuinely useful smart home.
If we do see an Alexa personal robot in the next few years it will seem like a perfectly logical extension of products like the Echo Show 10 and, in particular, the Ring Always Home Cam. That’s if people accept the slightly dystopian premise of the thing and buy and live with it in decent numbers, which is far from a guarantee. (Ring’s original name, before it was acquired by Amazon, was Bot Home Automation.) One of the only mysteries that remains in Amazon’s ever-expanding hardware range is whether the company will stick a face on anything.
In a completely sane world, madness is the only freedom (J.G.Ballard).
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