Amazon Echo

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Amazon Echo
Amazon echo shelf.jpg
Category Intelligent Personal Assistants
Developer Amazon.com, Inc
Announced 6 November 2014 [1]
Released Developers: 31 January 2015 [2]
Consumers: 23 June 2015 [3]
Price 180 USD [4]
Operating system Fire OS, Android, and iOS [5]
Controls

buttons, voice, smartphone or tablet [5]

Data available
Risk factor
Not offline
Device
https://www.amazon.com/Amazon-Echo-Bluetooth-Speaker-with-WiFi-Alexa/dp/B00X4WHP5E

Amazon Echo is a smart device by Amazon.com, Inc. that is controlled by a variety of voice commands and can function as an intelligent personal assistant.[4] Unlike some other personal assistants such as Cortana or Siri, Amazon Echo is not designated for smartphones or computers, but it is a standalone device for the household. However, it also contains intelligent personal assistant software, namely Alexa.[6]

The user can use Amazon services, play music, ask about weather or traffic situations, control other smart devices in the household, review calendars and tasks, ask about recipes, and more.[7] The abilities of the device can be further expanded by third-party apps called 'Skills'.[8]

Amazon Echo costs 180 USD[4] and was released on 23 June 2015 for the U.S.[3] and 14 September 2016 in the U.K. and Germany.[9] The service is not yet available outside those countries, although some European users report using the device without any problems during the time that it was not available in Europe.[10]

Main Characteristics

Amazon Echo is an approximately 24 cm tall cylindrical device. The power and microphone buttons are on the top of the device. An array of seven microphones is also present here. A small part of the top rotates and can be used to adjust the volume. Almost the entire housing of the device contains speakers, with the control unit embedded in the side of the inner tube. The device connects to the Internet via Wi-Fi and cannot work offline. It is not battery-powered and thus needs to be connected to a power outlet.[4]

The user can select from three pre-defined 'wake' words the device listens to 'Alexa', 'Amazon' and 'Echo'. The wake words can be switched in the app. When the device hears the wake word, it begins listening to users' demands.[11] After that the device is ready, and the user can say a command in plain language. The fact that Amazon Echo is listening is expressed by blue lighting on the top of the device.[6] The query is parsed on the side of the device and sent to the Alexa service running on Amazon servers for processing. After the command is processed and relevant information retrieved or action taken, the synthetic voice conveys the results to the user. However, Amazon Echo cannot process natural language in a way that more advanced intelligent personal assistants can. Echo only looks for keywords in the voice commands from the users and fails at longer and more complicated sentences.[12]

Amazon Echo is setup by apps in FireOS, Android, and iOS. After that it can be controlled by voice, app, or remote control. It is linked with devices via Bluetooth. In comparison with other intelligent personal assistants, it performs well even in noisy surroundings due to beam-forming technology.[6] Additional to its personal assistant functions, Amazon Echo can also be used to control other compatible household appliances such as smart lightbulbs from Philips or Belkin, or the smart WeMo coffee maker.[11]

Echo's abilities can be expanded by using 'Skills', third-party plug-ins developed through the Alexa Skills Kit, which has been freely available to developers since 31 July 2015.[2]

Amazon Smart Home Devices

Amazon announced the device on 6 November 2014.[13][1] In March 2016, Amazon introduced two smaller devices with the same capabilities as Amazon Echo—the Amazon Dot, a device with a smaller speaker and Bluetooth: and the Amazon Tap, a smaller, battery-powered version of Echo.[14] Amazon Dots cost 50 USD each. Moreover, in the case that users have more Amazon devices, Dots are smart enough to recognise which device is closest to a user, and this one will interact with the user.[6] Amazon Dot is a standalone device and, thus does not require Amazon Echo to function.[15] Amazon Tap costs 130 USD and is currently shipped only in the U.S.[6][16]

In May 2017, Amazon announced Amazon Echo Show, the intelligent personal assistant with screen, which gives the device new possibility.[17] It should be shipped in June.

Purpose

Amazon Echo is a voice command-driven household device that the user can use to use Internet services, search for information, play music, set tasks, and order items from Amazon.com and other involved companies.

Company & People

The Echo was developed by the Amazon Lab126 based in Sunnyvale, California.[18]

  • Jeff Bezos: CEO of Amazon [19]
  • Toni Reid: director of product at Amazon.com.[20]
  • Frédéric Deramat: senior principal engineer at Amazon.com.[21]
  • Charlie Kindel: Alexa Smart Home director.[22]
  • Amir Aslani: senior manager product management, Alexa Voice Service.[23]
  • Shamitha Somashekar: principal product manager, speech at Amazon/Alexa/Echo.[24]

Amazon.com, Inc. held a recruiting event in Seattle on February 2016 which displays a big focus on this technology.[25] In December 2016, Amazon was still recruiting intensively.[23]

Important Dates

  • 6 November 2014: Amazon Echo announced.[1]
  • December 2014: First customers, which wer involved in 'Amazon Prime', were invited to purchase Amazon Echo.[26]
  • 31 January 2015: Amazon Echo was open for developers.[2]
  • 23 June 2015: Amazon Echo was released in the U.S.[3][27]
  • 3 March 2016: Amazon Dot and Amazon Tap were released.[28]
  • 14 September 2016: Amazon Echo was released for the U.K. and Germany[9]
  • 28 June 2017: Amazon Echo Show was be released.[29]

Enhancement/Therapy/Treatment

The device with the outer shell removed; the motherboard is visible on the right.

One feature of the enhancement which Amazon Echo provides is the control of smart devices. Various smart devices are available from several companies, but Amazon Echo allows the majority of them to be controlled by voice. These include thermostats, light bulbs, coffee machines, or smart switches.[30] With a certain skill, and smart device, it could even control garage doors or monitor the movement of the user's car. Moreover, it is highly probable that the list of smart devices that could be controlled by Amazon Echo will grow. Additionally, Amazon Echo works with the IFTTT (if-this-then-that) app.[31] This app allows the creation of more complex commands, such as 'open the garage when my car enters a drive way' or 'read the news headlines every day at 8 a.m.'[32] Researcher Amine Ben Khalifa developed the app arxivML, which could read to Amazon's user the latest machine-learning papers including abstracts, which were published on arxiv.org.[33]

Another enhanced feature of Amazon Echo is that it can provide various kinds of information just after the voice command. It includes the weather forecast, the density of traffic, recipes that its user requires for cooking, and more. It could read headlines from the news, and it could answer users' questions.[30] In addition, Amazon Echo could be paired with Fitbit and provide information about the user's progress in exercise. It could also spell a word to its users.[34]

Due to implementation of 'Skills' Amazon Echo also supports services from third parties. Therefore, it enables users to purchase pizza from Domino's or order a taxi at Uber, just by a voice command. Other skills could turn Amazon Echo into a metronome or guitar tuner.[31]

There are also health and exercise skills, such as a 7-minute workout, Pilates, or mediation exercises that could be installed on Amazon Echo.[34] It could serve as a voice notebook, since Amazon Echo is also able to create a to-do list, a shopping list, or add a remark.[26]

Because of voice control, Amazon Echo is available for elderly and disabled people. The Amazon Echo provides the skill 'Ask My Buddy', which immediately alarms a pre-selected contact when help is needed. This could be helpful for elderly people who live alone and have an accident.[35] Furthermore, Amazon Echo provides brand new possibilities for disabled people, especially quadriplegics, and makes them more independent.[36] It could also be easily controlled by visually disabled people.[37]

Ethical & Health Issues

The use of Amazon Echo provides the bulk of users' personal data to Amazon. It could help the company to personalised advertisements and offers to each customer, which is an important part of this business. However, this feature of Amazon Echo cannot be removed, since it is essential for the service.[38] There have also been privacy concerns. Since the device always listens, there is possibility that it can spy on users' households. The listening of the device can be turned off by a button, however.[39]

Amazon Echo could shop for items the user needs; however, it prioritizes the Amazon store or stores of partners, which in many cases mean that the user will not find the best bargain for a product. Another issue linked with shopping with Amazon Echo is that it is quite easy. Hugh Langley from Wareables warns that if there are children in the household, shopping by Amazon Echo should be restricted by a passcode, in order to avoid their secret shopping.[40] One case has been reported in which a six-year-old girl talked with Alexa and accidentally bought a doll house and a pack of cookies.[41]

There is a danger that users of Amazon Echo (as well as other intelligent personal assistants) will prioritise contact with the device over social contact. This is a special concern when personal assistants tend to be more human-like.[42]

Public & Media Impact and Presentation

Cross-section of the device and control features.

Although the hype around the introduction of Amazon Echo was not as big as in the case of other personal assistants, it became popular.[43] Amazon Echo was named the Smart Home Platform of the Year 2016 by Wareable[44] and Wired entitled it 'Best Smart Home Essential'.[45] The success of Amazon Echo also caused MIT Technology Review placed Amazon at the first position in its '50 Smartest Companies 2016' list.[46] The reputation of Amazon Echo could also be demonstrated by the fact that it is one of the best-selling devices on Amazon.[47]

Most Amazon Echo reviews in journals and other media have been positive.

Ry Crist and David Carnoy from CNET argue,

For most, I still think it's worth the cost. The Echo is more than a souped-up speaker with Siri-like smarts -- it's the connected home experience you didn't know you wanted.[31]

However, journalists have also reported, that life with Amazon Echo is not as easy as it seems to be. David Gewirtz explains some queries he has had with Amazon Echo and Amazon services in general:

Alexa seems to handle natural language, but that's just a facade. It parses some words well, but drops a lot. It also doesn't make the logical jumps you would expect from a sophisticated system. On the other hand, that could be a case of Amazon's agenda conflicting with natural language science. Here's an example of what I mean. If I ask Alexa to play Preservation Hall Jazz Band (a far more reasonable choice than Coldplay), it responds with the usual "I don't see any songs by Preservation Hall Jazz Band in David's music library," followed again by a hint to go visit the Amazon music store. But if I tell Alexa, "Play Preservation Hall Jazz Band in Pandora," the Pringles can complies. I honestly can't believe that's an example of poor programming, After all, how hard could it be, on failure to find a listing in one music set, to search another linked music account? I have to think that this limitation in Alexa's understanding is because some Amazon product manager somewhere wanted to make it just slightly less convenient to play music from non-Amazon sources.[12]

However, he finishes his paper with the claim that he intends to buy some more Amazon Echo devices.[12]

When the Amazon Echo Dot was released, journalists pointed out that it was a better bargain than the Amazon Echo. Amazon Echo Dot costs significantly less than the original Amazon Echo. It lacks Amazon Echo's sound system, but this is the only difference between these two devices.[31][48]

Positive reviews are prevalent also on Amazon web sites. In December 2016, the majority of customers (67%) evaluated Amazon Echo with 5 stars, while one star was given by just 4% of customers. A customer with a nickname 'MstrssGrim' reported that Amazon Echo enhanced cognitive abilities of their animal member of the family:
An additional piece that I didn't expect to gain with the addition of alexa to our home was a friend for my African grey parrot. He has learned to say Alexa and he will watch it respond to him w the light prompt. He has stopped the music and gotten her to say hello to him. This is especially hilarious!! I have include a photo of Gordon the grey with his new friend Alexa :)[49]

Amazon Echo tends to overreact to voice commands. It sometimes reacts also on commands which were said on TV, as was reported in San Diego. During reportage about Amazon Echo, the reporter said a command, starting with 'Alexa...' and devices in the households' spectators turned to proceed with the command.[50]

Amazon partnered with Warner Bros to unveiled an adventure game that could be played on Amazon Echo. The plot of the game is based on an investigation of the murder of Bruce Wayne's (Batman's) parents.[51]

Amazon Echo was advertised by a teaser that starred Alec Baldwin, Dan Marino, Jason Schwartzman, and Missy Elliott at the Super Bowl.[47][52]

Public Policy

We have not yet recorded any public policy in regard to Amazon Echo.

Related Technologies, Projects, or Scientific Research

It is rumoured that the developers of Alexa tried to teach it to understand human emotions, which were to be expressed in the voice.[43]

Alexa, a voice assistant of Amazon Echo, was integrated also in the C lamp, which was developed by GE lightning.[53] At CES 2017, it along with was introduced a great many other products that contain the Alexa software, e.g., LG Hub Robot, Lenovo Smart Assistant, Aristotle, LG Smart InstaView Refrigerator, Ubtech Robotics Lynx, and Ford cars running the Sync 3 voice platform.[54]

Amazon Echo can control many smart devices such as Nest, LifX, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, August Smart Lock, Fitbit,[34], Insteon, Belkin WeMo,[11] and Whirpool smart devices.[55] This list is expected to grow.

References

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