Technology

Every new Alexa feature announced at Amazon’s fall hardware event: Hunches, Guard Plus and more


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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 good house is, as all the time, Alexa. Amazon’s voice assistant continues to increase 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.

After I spoke to Daniel Rausch, Amazon’s vp of good house and Alexa cellular, earlier than the {hardware} occasion, he mentioned Alexa is changing into extra impartial too. Alexa will quickly have the ability to act on Hunches with out asking, to pay attention for and react to sounds aside from a wake phrase, and to guard your property 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 mean you can monitor your property when you’re away. Whereas it is activated, Guard will pay attention 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 referred to as Alexa Guard Plus, a subscription service that runs $4.99 per thirty days, and it provides a couple of options on prime of the usual choices. First, Guard Plus will add a extra strong “sounds of exercise” detector, which can pay attention for doorways opening or closing and different sounds related to undesirable guests. Second, Guard Plus will deliver deterrence options, as an example triggering Alexa to play a recording of canines 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 providers like police, the fireplace division or emergency contacts.

Amazon additionally introduced assist for Alexa Guard Plus from quite a lot of {hardware} companions, together with Abode, Wyze, Amazon’s personal Ring, A3 Sensible Residence, Scout and Resideo. You possibly can 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 the usage of Hunches — these cases when Alexa suggests an motion, like locking your entrance door as you are turning off lights for the evening. In truth, of the smart home actions that happen by way of Alexa, Rausch says one in 5 are initiated by Alexa itself, quite than by way of a person’s voice command.

With Amazon’s new upgrades to Hunches, Alexa will have the ability to carry out sure actions with out asking. Which means, for those who’re touring, Alexa may mechanically flip off your basement lights. That might result in some issues, as you may count on. However Rausch appeared assured after we spoke that the Alexa app will assist customers preserve management over what Alexa is able to deciding by itself, and can “shut the loop” by checking with customers to verify the automated actions have been the suitable ones to take. As well as, sure gadgets — comparable to good door locks — aren’t included within the Hunches improve, in order to keep away from points like being locked out of your 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] preserve dignity” throughout these notably tough occasions.

Pure turn-taking dialog

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

Extra complete deletion

Alexa will now have the ability to delete all voice recordings in your account with a single command: “Delete every thing I’ve mentioned.” For extra of Amazon’s new voice assistant privateness options, learn our piece on the announcements.

Different characteristic updates

Apart from these main updates, Alexa goes to get a couple of smaller scale, quality-of-life upgrades, too. This is the working listing:

  • Group calling: Alexa will quickly have the ability to facilitate video- or voice-driven group calls with as much as eight members.
  • Zoom and Amazon Chime on Echo Present gadgets: Alexa will have the ability 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 come back to an finish. Netflix is lastly coming to Echo Present gadgets.
  • Music sharing: In the event you inform Alexa to “share a tune with mother,” mother will have the ability to pay attention 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 guide.
  • Alexa voice profiles for youngsters: When youngsters discuss to Alexa, the voice assistant will mechanically alter its responses to be acceptable for the age and wishes of the kid.
  • Interactive instructing: Customers will have the ability to train Alexa with this setting. The voice assistant will ask questions, and you’ll 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