Amazon Echo

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"Amazon Alexa" redirects here. For the subsidiary of Amazon of the same name, see Alexa Internet.
Amazon Echo
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Amazon Echo
Manufacturer Amazon.com
Type Voice command device
Release date

November 6, 2014 (2014-11-06) (limited)

June 23, 2015 (2015-06-23) (wide)
Introductory price $179.99
Operating system Alexa Voice Serives
Input Voice command
Connectivity Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
Website Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo is a wireless speaker and voice command device from Amazon.com. The device consists of a 9.25-inch (23.5 cm) tall cylinder speaker with a seven-piece microphone array.[1] The device responds to the name "Alexa"; this "wake word" can be changed by the user to either "Amazon" or "Echo".[2] The device is capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, and providing weather, traffic and other real time information. It can also control several smart devices.[3]

Amazon had been developing Echo inside its Lab126 offices in Silicon Valley and Cambridge, Mass. since at least 2010. The device, codenamed 'Doppler' or 'Project D', was part of Amazon’s first attempts to expand its device portfolio beyond the Kindle e-reader.[1] The Echo was prominently featured in Amazon's first-ever Super Bowl ad in 2016.

The Echo (initially limited to Amazon Prime members or by invitation) became widely available in the USA on June 23, 2015.[4] Additionally, the Alexa voice service is available to be added to other devices and other companies' devices and services are encouraged to connect to it.[5]

Cloud-based processing

Amazon Echo runs on Amazon Web Services. In the default mode the device continuously listens to all speech, monitoring for the wake word to be spoken. The device also comes with a manually and voice-activated remote control which can be used in lieu of the 'wake word'. Echo's microphones can be manually disabled by pressing a mute button to turn off the audio processing circuit.[1]

Echo requires a Wi-Fi internet connection in order to work. Echo's voice recognition capability is based on Amazon Web Services and the Amazon common voice platform it acquired from Yap,[6] Evi, and IVONA[7] (a Polish-based specialist in voice technologies used in the Kindle Fire).[8]

Echo performs well with a 'good' (low latency) Internet connection which minimizes processing time due to minimal communication round trips, streamable responses and geo-distributed service endpoints.

Services provided

Echo offers weather from AccuWeather and news from a variety of sources, including local radio stations, NPR, and ESPN from TuneIn.[9] Echo can play music from owner's Amazon Music accounts and has built-in support for the Pandora and Spotify streaming music services[10] and has support for IFTTT and Nest Thermostats.[11] Echo can also play music from streaming services such as Apple Music, and Google Play Music from a phone or tablet. Echo maintains voice-controlled alarms, timers, shopping and to-do lists and can access Wikipedia articles. Echo will respond to your questions about items in your Google calendar. It also integrates with Philips Hue, Belkin Wemo, SmartThings, Insteon, and Wink.[12][13] Additionally, integration with the Echo is in the works for Countertop by Orange Chef, Scout Alarm, Garageio, Toymail, MARA, and Mojio.[14]

Echo also has access to skills built with the Alexa Skills Kit. These are 3rd-party developed voice experiences that add to the capabilities of any Alexa-enabled device (such as the Echo). Examples of skills include the ability to play music, answer general questions, set an alarm, order a pizza, get an Uber, and more. Skills are continuously being added to increase the capabilities available to the user. The Alexa Skills Kit is a collection of self-service APIs, tools, documentation and code samples that make it fast and easy for any developer to add skills to Alexa. Developers can also use the "Smart Home Skill API",[15] a new addition to the Alexa Skills Kit, to easily teach Alexa how to control cloud-controlled lighting and thermostat devices. All of the code runs in the cloud – nothing is on any user device. A developer can follow tutorials to learn how to quickly build voice experiences for their new and existing applications.[16]

Hardware

File:Amazon Echo unpacked (15978606333).jpg
Amazon Echo unpacked, January 2015

The Echo hardware complement includes a Texas Instruments DM3725 ARM Cortex-A8 processor, 256MB of LPDDR1 RAM and 4GB of storage space.[17] Connectivity is provided by dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.

The Echo is intended to be voice controlled at the unit, however, a mic-enabled remote control similar to the one bundled with the Fire TV is available for purchase. An action button on top of the unit is provided for user setup in a new location, and the mute button allows the microphones to be turned off.[18] The top half-inch of the unit rotates to increase or decrease the speaker volume. The Echo must be plugged in to operate since it has no internal battery.

Related gadgets

In March 2016, Amazon unveiled the Amazon Echo Dot,[19] which is a hockey puck sized version of the Echo designed to connect to existing speakers since it only has a small speaker and the Amazon Tap,[20] a portable and smaller version of the Echo with dual stereo speakers.[21]

In May 2016, Amazon made Alexa available as a web app for testing purposes, which it described as "simulat[ing] the look and feel of an Amazon Echo".[22][23] The simulator was aimed at developers outside of the US, where Echo was not yet available at that time.[22]

Natural voices

Echo's natural lifelike voices result from speech-unit selection technology.[24] High speech accuracy is achieved through sophisticated natural language processing (NLP) algorithms built into the Echo's text-to-speech (TTS) engine.

Privacy concerns

There are concerns about the access Echo has to private conversations in the home, or other non-verbal indications that can identify who is present in the home and who is not—based on audible cues such as footstep-cadence or radio/television programming.[25][26] Amazon responds to these concerns by stating that Echo only streams recordings from the user's home when the 'wake word' activates the device, though the device is technically capable of streaming voice recordings at all times, and in fact will always be listening to detect if a user has uttered the word.

Echo uses past voice recordings the user has sent to the cloud service to improve response to future questions the user may pose. To address privacy concerns, the user can delete voice recordings that are currently associated with the user's account, but doing so may degrade the user's experience using voice search. To delete these recordings, the user can visit the Manage My Device page on Amazon.com or contact Amazon customer service.

Echo uses an address set in the Alexa companion app when it needs a location.[27] Amazon and third-party apps and websites use location information to provide location-based services and store this information to provide voice services, the Maps app, Find Your Device, and to monitor the performance and accuracy of location services. For example, Echo voice services use the user's location to respond to the user's requests for nearby restaurants or stores. Similarly, Echo uses the user's location to process the user's mapping-related requests and improve the Maps experience. All information collected is subject to the Amazon.com Privacy Notice.[28]

Limitations

Purchasing merchandise or digital media such as songs, by commanding Echo to buy the song, does require manual intervention—through an alternate user interface—to complete the purchase. Echo has demonstrated hit-or-miss results when asked common questions that users would expect better answers to. Echo sometimes confuses certain homophones.[29]

The current location of the device is set to Seattle (Amazon headquarters) by default and must be changed manually, but can only be set to a location within the USA. This is different from smartphone-based voice assistants that can get the actual location via built-in GPS locators. This restriction can lead to undesired or seemingly "wrong" results for questions that imply the location such as "What is the weather" (around here) or "Set an alarm for 10:00am" (local time here). There are several attempts to circumvent the USA only restriction, particularly by users in Europe and Australia. One such workaround is to set the Echo to a timezone that is exactly 12 hours difference from the local time. For example, if the current time in London is 11:30am, the user can set Echo to Hawaii Standard Time, which would be 11:30pm. This would enable Echo to report the correct time. There are two undesirable effects with using this method. One is the incorrect AM/PM notation and the second is the incorrect date. Another more sophisticated workaround is by manipulating the data that is transmitted and received by Amazon's servers as described by user "stonewater" on the unofficial Amazon Echo forum.[30] This method produces accurate and desirable results. However, it requires technological know-how with the aid of Request Maker for Chrome to accomplish the task.

Interaction and communication with Echo is currently only available in English.

Software versions

The Echo functionality periodically evolves as Amazon releases new software for it. Most new releases will fix bugs in addition to including enhanced functionality. New releases are pushed to the devices on a gradual basis so it may take several days to a week or more for a particular device to be updated. Because much of Echo's intelligence lies in the cloud, significant functional enhancements can be made to Echo without updating the software version it is running. For example, in April,[when?] the Echo added the ability to give live sports scores without updating the software version running on the device.[citation needed]

Version Date Description
3202 2016-03-27
3077 2016-02-04 General improvements and performance enhancements. Listen to music from Spotify with a Spotify Premium subscription. Support for public Wi-Fi networks. New wake word: Echo was added.
3058 General improvements and performance enhancements. Added Movie Times function. Added NFL Scores.
3034
2723 2015-09-24 General improvements and performance enhancements.
2690
2606 2015-07-10
2530 2015-06-01 Listen to audiobooks from Audible.com.
2392 2015-03-30 Control supported Belkin and Philips connected home devices as well as general improvements and performance enhancements
2332 2015-02-26 Bug fixes and performance improvements.
2249 2015-01-28 Additional voice commands for Shopping and To-do Lists—can review shopping-list and to-do list items.
2221 2015-01-12
2171 2015-01-07
2057 2014-11-06 Initial release

See also

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Stone, Brad; Soper, Spencer (2014-11-06). "Amazon Unveils a Listening, Talking, Music-Playing Speaker for Your Home". Bloomberg Businessweek. Bloomberg L.P. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 
  2. "Amazon.com Help: Set Up Your Amazon Echo". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  3. "Amazon Echo". toptechgadgets. Top Tech Gadgets. 
  4. "Amazon Echo is now available for everyone to buy for $179.99, shipments start on July 14". Android Central. 
  5. "Amazon Unbundles Alexa Virtual Assistant From Echo With New Dev Tools". TechCrunch. AOL. 25 June 2015. 
  6. "Star Performers: Amazon's on Fire". Speech Technology Media. Retrieved 2014-07-29. 
  7. "Amazon Echo is an always-on personal assistant that is also a speaker.". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2014-11-17. 
  8. "Amazon Gets Into Voice Recognition, Buys Ivona Software To Compete Against Apple’s Siri". TechCrunch. Retrieved 2014-11-17. 
  9. "RetailWire News Article: What does Amazon Echo have to do with shopping?". Retailwire.com. Retrieved 2014-11-17. 
  10. "Amazon Echo". amazon.com. 
  11. Kevin Tofel. "Amazon Echo just became much more useful with IFTTT support". ZDNet. 
  12. "Amazon Echo controls Belkin WeMo and Philips Hue with your voice". Engadget. April 8, 2015. 
  13. Tofel, Kevin (July 9, 2015). "Amazon Echo can now control Wink smart home products". ZDNet. 
  14. Parkhurst, Emily (June 25, 2015). "Amazon makes $100M available to fund voice-control tech". Puget Sound Business Journal. 
  15. https://developer.amazon.com/public/solutions/alexa/alexa-skills-kit/content/smart-home
  16. https://developer.amazon.com/public/community/post/Tx3DVGG0K0TPUGQ/New-Alexa-Skills-Kit-Template-Step-by-Step-Guide-to-Build-a-Fact-Skill
  17. "Amazon Echo Teardown". iFixit. Retrieved 22 December 2014. 
  18. Amazon Echo Review: I Just Spoke to the Future And It Listened. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
  19. www.amazon.com/dot
  20. www.amazon.com/tap
  21. Amazon Echo's Brain Is Finally in Gadgets I Actually Want to Use Engadget, 3 March 2016
  22. 22.0 22.1 Seifert, Dan (2016-05-28). "Amazon built a tool that puts Alexa in your browser". The Verge. Retrieved 2016-05-29. 
  23. Cameron, Glenn (2016-05-27). "Introducing Echosim.io – A New Online Tool Built by the Community, for the Community". Amazon Mobile App Distribution Blog. Retrieved 2016-05-29. 
  24. Heather Kelly, CNN (12 November 2014). "Why Amazon's Echo is the computer of the future". CNN. Retrieved 17 November 2014. 
  25. "Amazon announces Echo, a $199 voice-driven home assistant". Ars Technica. Retrieved 17 November 2014. 
  26. "How private is Amazon Echo?". Slashgear.com. Retrieved 17 November 2014. 
  27. http://alexa.amazon.com/spa/index.html#settings
  28. "Amazon.com Help: Amazon.com Privacy Notice". amazon.com. 
  29. "Amazon Echo". Engadget. AOL. 
  30. "Un-Official Amazon Echo Forum". Using outside the US. EchoTalk.org. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 

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