Amazon's Echo Is a New Voice-Controlled Device
Amazon last week officially unveiled its Echo wireless speaker with an integrated personal assistant that can respond to voice commands.
Echo can respond to spoken commands and answer questions posed to it by voice. The device, which connects to the Internet via Amazon Web Services, continually learns its user's speech patterns and preferences to improve recognition accuracy over time. It is always listening and in standby mode; the trigger word to wake it up is "Alexa." With enhanced noise cancellation, Echo can hear you ask a question even while it's playing music.
Other voice capabilities include alarms, timers, and lists. Users can stay on time and organized with voice-controlled alarms, timers, and shopping and to-do lists.
Additionally, the personal assistant is contextually aware. Ask it a question and it scours Wikipedia for the answer. It can also deliver dictionary definitions and the latest news, weather, sports scores, or stock reports from a variety of sources when prompted.
The Echo features seven separate microphones to ensure that it always hears what is being. Bill Meisel, president of TMA Associates, calls the microphone array "the most innovative aspect of the device," and suggests that it might make the speech recognition at a distance more reliable.
"If the speech recognition works well—and that remains to be seen—it may surprise the skeptics," he wrote in a recent blog post.
Its first use is as a speaker, and so Echo can stream music from Amazon's cloud player, iHeartRadio, Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, or TuneIn, as well as music stored on a smartphone, tablet, or PC, thanks to Bluetooth connectivity.
Amazon Echo is priced at $199, or $99 for members for the online retail giant's Amazon Prime loyalty scheme. It is available on an invitation-only basis for now and is expected to make its commercial launch early next year.
"It has huge potential," Meisel concludes.