Amazon just launched its new Echo service, and Echo speaker device (you need both in order to have the Amazon Echo experience). Amazon Echo is best described as “Siri for your home”. In a case of life imitating art, Echo is essentially a virtual assistant (named Alexa), much like Scarlett Johansson’s character in the movie “Her“, always waiting to hear the “wake word” (more on that in a moment).
Alexa is always listening through the Amazon Echo speaker, which can also play music for you, using either your own playlists, or a cloud-based music service. When you ask Alexa a question, such as “What is the weather?”, ‘she’ will dutifully search for an answer.
Amazon Echo Speaker
And when we say “always listening”, we mean always listening. Says Amazon, “Tucked under Echo’s light ring is an array of seven microphones. These sensors use beam-forming technology to hear you from any direction. With enhanced noise cancellation, Echo can hear you ask a question even while it’s playing music. Echo uses on-device keyword spotting to detect the wake word. When Echo detects the wake word, it lights up and streams audio to the cloud, where we leverage the power of Amazon Web Services to recognize and respond to your request.”
The wake word is the word that triggers Alexa into action – much like saying “Hey Siri” to wake Siri up (didn’t know you can do this? It’s an option in iOS, but only works when your iDevice is connected to a power source.) Echo’s wake word is…wait for it… “Alexa” (although there is an option to set it to “Amazon” as well).
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Some things you can ask or instruct Alexa, through Echo, include questions about the weather, requests for music, and additions to shopping or to-do lists.
Of course, the real value to Amazon is all of the data it will be collecting and mining from all of the requests that the Echo service receives. Says Amazon, “Echo uses on-device keyword spotting to detect the wake word. When Echo detects the wake word, it lights up and streams audio to the cloud, where we leverage the power of Amazon Web Services to recognize and respond to your request,” and elsewhere Amazon explains that “Echo’s brain is in the cloud, running on Amazon Web Services so it continually learns and adds more functionality over time. The more you use Echo, the more it adapts to your speech patterns, vocabulary, and personal preferences.”
The Echo device (speaker) retails for $199, although Amazon Prime members can get it for $99. Right now Echo is by invitation only, and you can sign up here to request an invitation to Amazon Echo.
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