Technology

All the new Alexa features Amazon announced for the Echo this fall


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Amazon’s annual hardware event has come and gone, with a slew of product bulletins, from a model new Echo speaker and Echo Show display, to a cloud-based gaming platform. However the star of Amazon’s sensible house is, as all the time, Alexa. Amazon’s voice assistant continues to broaden its attain, connecting with over 140,000 smart home gadgets, and boasting greater than 100 million Alexa-compatible gadgets put in throughout its person base. However Alexa’s energy is not simply in its rapidly growing scale and ever-expanding reach.

Once I spoke to Daniel Rausch, Amazon’s vp of sensible residence and Alexa cellular, earlier than the {hardware} occasion, he stated Alexa is turning into extra unbiased too. Alexa will quickly be capable to act on Hunches with out asking, to hear for and react to sounds aside from a wake phrase, and to guard your house extra actively with an upgrade to Alexa Guard.

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All this will lead to what Rausch called “the ambient home,” in which Alexa is “ready to respond [to voice commands], however is extra predictive and proactive.”

Listed below are the most important upgrades coming to Alexa.

Alexa Guard Plus

Amazon has rolled out and expanded Alexa Guard over the previous couple of years to will let you monitor your house when you’re away. Whereas it is activated, Guard will hear for glass breaking, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, and footsteps and different indicators of a break-in, and can ship you a cellular alert.

The corporate is now providing one thing known as Alexa Guard Plus, a subscription service that runs $4.99 monthly, and it provides just a few options on high of the usual choices. First, Guard Plus will add a extra sturdy “sounds of exercise” detector, which can hear for doorways opening or closing and different sounds related to undesirable guests. Second, Guard Plus will convey deterrence options, as an example triggering Alexa to play a recording of canine barking if a safety digital camera catches somebody sneaking across the again of the home when you’re away. Lastly, the Guard Plus will add a brand new hands-free emergency assist line, run by a third-party firm, to attach customers to emergency companies like police, the fireplace division or emergency contacts.

Amazon additionally introduced help for Alexa Guard Plus from quite a lot of {hardware} companions, together with Abode, Wyze, Amazon’s personal Ring, A3 Good Residence, Scout and Resideo. You’ll be able to learn extra about Guard Plus in our follow-up story

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Upgraded Hunches

For over a yr now, Amazon has been ramping up using Hunches — these situations when Alexa suggests an motion, like locking your entrance door as you are turning off lights for the night time. In actual fact, of the smart home actions that happen through Alexa, Rausch says one in 5 are initiated by Alexa itself, quite than through a person’s voice command.

With Amazon’s new upgrades to Hunches, Alexa will be capable to carry out sure actions with out asking. Which means, should you’re touring, Alexa would possibly robotically flip off your basement lights. That would result in some issues, as you would possibly count on. However Rausch appeared assured once we spoke that the Alexa app will assist customers keep management over what Alexa is able to deciding by itself, and can “shut the loop” by checking with customers to ensure the automated actions had been the best ones to take. As well as, sure gadgets — similar to sensible door locks — aren’t included within the Hunches improve, in order to keep away from points like being locked out of your own home throughout a midnight snack run.

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Sound detector routines

In addition to responding to Amazon’s traditional wake words for Alexa, such as “Hey, Alexa,” or “Hey, computer,” or even “Hey, Samuel,” for you Samuel L. Jackson fans, soon you’ll be able to trigger routines with different sounds, such as a dog barking, a baby crying or someone snoring. Rausch said these sounds will work similarly to the wake word, allowing you to trigger various smart home actions, for instance turning on your bedside lamp when your newborn cries or turning off the TV when you begin to snore.

According to Rausch, some of these sounds, such as a baby crying, won’t be sent to the cloud, to maintain privacy. But this new feature will certainly raise questions about privacy, especially around how broadly Alexa interprets various sounds as a specific kind of trigger.

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Alexa Care Hub

As we continue to adjust to life during a pandemic, one major concern is elder care in isolation. Rausch seemed particularly excited about this feature, as he’s been testing it with his aging mother in recent days. Essentially, the Care Hub allows two Amazon Alexa accounts to link, and gives one account broad access to activity on the other. 

Rausch said that the person in need of care would first have to extend an invite to another Alexa user, such as a family member or caretaker. The Care Hub, without providing the specifics of each individual Alexa interaction, could send a notification indicating general activity — essentially to reassure the family member or caretaker that the individual being monitored is up and going about his or her day.

Such a system, said Rausch, can help the elderly “age in place [and] keep dignity” throughout these notably troublesome occasions.

Pure turn-taking dialog

Alexa will quickly be including a conversational mode, which’ll let customers converse forwards and backwards with Alexa — even with a number of human members within the dialog. To activate the function, you simply should say, “Alexa, be part of our dialog.”

Extra complete deletion

Alexa will now be capable to delete all voice recordings in your account with a single command: “Delete the whole lot I’ve stated.” For extra of Amazon’s new voice assistant privateness options, learn our piece on the announcements.

Different function updates

In addition to these main updates, Alexa goes to get just a few smaller scale, quality-of-life upgrades, too. This is the operating record:

  • Group calling: Alexa will quickly be capable to facilitate video- or voice-driven group calls with as much as eight members.
  • Zoom and Amazon Chime on Echo Present gadgets: Alexa will be capable to join you with third-party video chat service Zoom, or Amazon’s personal Chime service.
  • Netflix on Echo Present gadgets: A years-long annoyance for Echo Present customers is about to return to an finish. Netflix is lastly coming to Echo Present gadgets.
  • Music sharing: For those who inform Alexa to “share a music with mother,” mother will be capable to hear on her Echo. (Applies to non-moms too.)
  • Studying Sidekick: With these studying to learn, Alexa will commerce strains and supply encouragement whereas following alongside in a shared ebook.
  • Alexa voice profiles for kids: When children discuss to Alexa, the voice assistant will robotically alter its responses to be acceptable for the age and wishes of the kid.
  • Interactive instructing: Customers will be capable to train Alexa with this setting. The voice assistant will ask questions, and you may assist fill in gaps in its data.

For extra: Examine everything else Amazon announced at its devices and services event.

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Author

David Priest