Alexa

Alexa developers can now personalize their skills by recognizing the user’s voice

Posted by | Alexa, alexa skills, Amazon, Amazon Hardware Event 2019, Gadgets, voice | No Comments

Amazon Alexa is already capable of identifying different voices to give personalized responses to different users in the household, thanks to the added support for voice profiles two years ago. Now, those same personalization capabilities will be offered to Alexa Skill developers, Amazon has announced.

Alongside Amazon’s big rollout of new consumer devices on Wednesday, the company also introduced a new “skill personalization” feature for the Alexa Skills Kit that lets developers tap into the voice profiles that customers create through the Alexa companion app or from their device.

This expanded capability lets developers make skills that are able to remember a user’s custom settings, address their preferences when using the skill and just generally recognize the different household members who are speaking at the time, among other things.

To work, Alexa will send a directed identifier — a generated string of characters and numbers — to the skill in question, if the customer has a voice profile set up. Every time the customer returns to that skill, the same identifier is shared. This identifier doesn’t include any personally identifiable information, Amazon says, and is different for each voice profile for each skill the customer users.

Skill developers can then leverage this information to generate personalized greetings or responses based on the customers’ likes, dislikes and interests.

If the customer doesn’t want to use skill personalization even though they configured a voice profile, they can opt out of the feature in the Alexa app.

Personalization could be a particular advantage to Alexa skills like games, where users may want to save their progress, or to music or podcasts/audio programming skills, where taste preferences come into play.

However, Alexa’s process for establishing voice profiles still requires manual input on users’ parts — people have to configure the option in the Alexa companion app’s settings, or say to Alexa, “learn my voice.” Many consumers may not know it’s even an option — which means developers interested in the feature may have to educate users by way of informational tips in their own apps, at first.

The feature is launching into preview, which means Amazon is just now opening up the ability to select developers. Those interested in putting the option to use will have to apply for access and wait to hear back.

Powered by WPeMatico

Ears-on with Amazon’s new Echo earbuds, framebuds, and ringbud

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo, Amazon Hardware Event 2019, artificial intelligence, echo buds, echo frames, echo loop, Gadgets, hardware, TC, Wearables, wireless earbuds | No Comments

Amazon announced more than a few devices today during an event at its headquarters in Seattle, and it was the smallest gadgets that made the biggest impression. The company built Alexa into earbuds, glasses and a ring with the Echo Buds, Echo Frames and Echo Loop, respectively. I’ve tried them all out.

The ones people are most likely to actually want are the earbuds, of course. With Bose noise reduction and Alexa functions built in, they’ll be a popular option for anyone who doesn’t want to take out their phone, but also doesn’t want to wear large over-hear headphones.

alexa echo amazon 9250103

The Echo Buds are somewhat large — bigger than several sets of wireless headphones I’ve seen and tried, though they were comfortable after being corkscrewed into my ear.

They have two modes: noise reduction and passthrough, which you switch between with a double tap on either bud. The noise reduction was considerable, but certainly not to the level you’d expect from a pair of over-ears. In-ear headphones already provide a physical barrier to sound getting in, but the addition of three microphones on each ear (two external and one internal) let it do the usual electronic reduction as well. I could still hear the crowd around me and people speaking to me, but it was easily drowned out by the Billie Eilish song they queued up.

alexa echo amazon 9250092

Passthrough provided a quick and clear version of surrounding audio with no noticeable delay. Music and other stuff can still be played in this mode and it blended pretty seamlessly in.

Of course the Echo Buds, like pretty much everything else at the event, have Alexa built in. You get at the service via a wake word, a process that worked well for me.

Their little case looks more fiddly than it is. Magnets snap the contacts onto each other and it begins charging immediately. You should get some 4-5 hours with the buds, out to 20 hours if you drain the case too.

About five feet away from these headphones, and with a half hour wait to test out, were the new Echo Frames. These glasses can be customized with your prescription, though sadly the design and material are locked in.

alexa echo amazon 9250080

The oversized arms of the glasses house the Alexa hardware, and while the glasses themselves are pretty light, the thickness is definitely noticeable from any angle. The underside of the right arm has an activation button and a volume rocker, as well as the port for magnetic charging. The big shiny sides are touch sensitive; you swipe to accept a call, respond to Alexa offering more info and so on.

The sound is a bit like someone whispering in your ear — you wouldn’t want to listen to music on these, the Amazon folks admitted. But speech was clear and Alexa commands were handled quickly.

The speakers aren’t exactly hidden: Each arm has two speakers inside, each of which has two “ports,” one on top and one on bottom. I asked the demonstrator probably five times why there are ports on the top if the sound needs to come out the bottom, but all she would say is that it’s how they made the directional audio work.

alexa echo amazon 9250086

Perhaps that’s also why I could hear the Alexa responses from a foot or two away in a crowded room. You can configure it so only certain things get played automatically, which is good, because if the person on the bus next to me heard some of the texts I get, they might be alarmed.

Honestly it’s not much worse, though a bit clearer, than if someone is using bad earbuds. Just be aware that if you use these things, others might be hearing that whispered text conversation too.

alexa echo amazon 9250068

Last, and weirdest, is the Echo Loop. It’s a big fat ring that you can use to ask Alexa questions and hear the answers. The big part with the dots isn’t actually the speaker, but rather part of the microphone array — presumably for subtracting ambient noise so the speech recognition works better. The inside of the ring is where you’ll find the tiny speaker — the smallest of any Amazon device, it was said — and mic.

alexa echo amazon 9250075

You tap a button to activate Alexa, and the ring will vibrate to let you know it’s time to talk. You then ask your hand the question you have in mind, and afterwards cup the ring to your ear — right up to it, because this speaker is tiny. A second or two later, out comes Alexa’s voice, sounding like an old transistor radio, telling you the weather in Barcelona or whatever.

Does it work? Yes, it does. It’s a ring you can ask questions. The speaker is pretty quiet and you need to find the right position to hear it well (admittedly it was fairly loud in the room), but the ring speaks.

It’s not for everybody, which is why it, along with the glasses, are part of the new Day One Edition series of questionable devices. But if you can think of a way it might be useful, be assured: It works as advertised.

Powered by WPeMatico

Amazon wants to put microphones into your rings and glasses

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, Amazon Echo, Amazon Hardware Event 2019, Gadgets, Google, hardware, microphone, microwave, smart speakers, Speaker | No Comments

At the end of its hardware event today, Amazon announced a new program for testing and selling its own experimental, limited-volume hardware: Day 1 Editions.

The first of these new products is Echo Frames. These are Alexa-enabled glasses, though, unlike Google Glass, there’s no camera and no display, just microphones and a speaker.

The second is the Echo Loop, a rather large Alexa-enabled ring with two built-in microphones and, of course, a tiny speaker. Both of these will be available on an invite-only basis and in limited volumes later this year.

The frames will retail for $179.99 and the Loop will cost $129.99 for the introduction period.

download 2

The glasses, which will sell without any prescription lenses (though you can add those if you want), weigh in at 31 grams. They aren’t especially stylish, though they look pretty acceptable.

The ring is maybe the oddest product Amazon demoed at its event today. It’s pretty large and I can’t quite see people talking into their rings and then listening to what Alexa has to say in response, but I could be wrong. Maybe it’s the next big thing.

“Paired with your phone, this ring lets you access information throughout the day,” Amazon writes. “It’s super easy to connect with Alexa without breaking stride or digging out your phone, for those simple things like turning on the lights or calculating the tip on your lunch bill. Simply press a button, talk softly to Alexa, and then the answer comes discretely through a small speaker built into the ring.”

To be fair, though, these are very much experimental products that are meant to allow Amazon to get feedback from real customers. But that’s what Amazon said about its Alexa-enabled microwave, too, and now it’s the best-selling microwave on the site.

Image from iOS 5 1

Powered by WPeMatico

Amazon might reveal fitness-tracking Alexa wireless earbuds, Echo with better sound this week

Posted by | AirPods, Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Android, Apple, apple inc, Assistant, Berkshire Hathaway, CNBC, Companies, fitbit, Gadgets, hardware, hearables, industries, iPhone, Samsung, Seattle, TC, wireless earbuds | No Comments

Amazon is building wireless earbuds that offer Alexa voice assistant access, and fitness tracking for use during activities, according to a new report from CNBC. These earbuds, combined with a new, larger Echo designed to provide more premium sound, could feature into Amazon’s hardware event taking place this Wednesday in Seattle, though the outlet is unclear on the release timeline for this gear based on its source.

These earbuds would be a major new product for Amazon, and would be the company’s first foray into personal health and fitness devices. While Amazon has either built or bought products in a wide range of connected gadget categories, including smart home and smart speakers in particular, so far it hasn’t seemed all that aggressive in personal health, even as Apple, Samsung and others have invested heavily in these areas.

CNBC’s report says that these new Alexa buds will have an accelerometer on board for measuring motion, and will be able to also provide distance tracking, calories burned and pace – in other words, all the things that you’d expect to track with a fitness wearable like the Apple Watch or a Fitbit.

Leaving aside their fitness features, earbuds would provide Amazon a way to deliver a more portable Alexa for people to take with them outside of the house. The company has partnered with other headphone makers on similar third-party Alexa integrations, and they’ve also experimented with bringing Alexa to the car, for instance, but it’s largely still a home-based assistant, successful as its been.

Helping the appeal of these reported new products, the buds are said to be retailing for under $100, which will put them at a big price advantage when compared to similar offerings from either dedicated audio companies and headphone makes, and to potential rivals like Apple’s AirPods. Though the report indicates that they’ll still rely on being connected to an iPhone or Android device for connectivity, as they won’t have their own data connection.

Amazon is also readying a bigger echo that has a built-in woofer and overall better sound than its existing lineup, according to CNBC . That mirrors a report from July from Bloomberg that also said Amazon was readying a high-end echo, with a planned launch for next year.

Some or all of these new hardware devices could make their debut at Wednesday’s event, but it seems likely a lot of what we’ll see will be a surprise.

Powered by WPeMatico

Amazon’s Echo Show can now identify household pantry items held in front of its camera

Posted by | accessibility, Alexa, Amazon, echo, Echo Show, Gadgets, Show and tell | No Comments

Amazon is introducing a new feature to its Alexa Show device designed to help blind and other low-vision customers identify common household pantry items by holding them in front of Alexa’s camera and asking what it is. The feature uses a combination of computer vision and machine learning techniques in order to recognize the objects the Echo Show sees.

The Echo Show is the version of the Alexa-powered smart speaker that tends to sit in customers’ kitchens because it helps them with other kitchen tasks, like setting timers, watching recipe videos or enjoying a little music or TV while they cook.

But for blind users, the Show will now have a new duty: helping them better identify those household pantry items that are hard to distinguish by touch — like cans, boxed foods, or spices, for example. 

To use the feature, customers can just say things like “Alexa, what am I holding?” or “Alexa, what’s in my hand?” Alexa will also give verbal and audio cues to help the customers place the item in front of the device’s camera.

Amazon says the feature was developed in collaboration with blind Amazon employees, including its principal accessibility engineer, Josh Miele, who gathered feedback from both blind and low-vision customers as part of the development process. The company also worked with the Vista Center for the Blind in Santa Cruz on early research, product development and testing.

“We heard that product identification can be a challenge and something customers wanted Alexa’s help with,” explained Sarah Caplener, head of Amazon’s Alexa for Everyone team. “Whether a customer is sorting through a bag of groceries, or trying to determine what item was left out on the counter, we want to make those moments simpler by helping identify these items and giving customers the information they need in that moment,” she said.

Smart home devices and intelligent voice assistants like Alexa have made life easier for disabled individuals, as it allows them to do things like adjust the thermostats and lights, lock the doors, raise the blinds and more. With “Show and Tell,” Amazon hopes to reach the wide market of blind and low-vision customers, as well. According to the World Health Organization, there are an estimated 1.3 billion with some sort of vision impairment, Amazon says.

That being said, Echo devices aren’t globally available — and even when they are offered in a particular country, the device may not support the local language. Plus, the feature itself is U.S.-only at launch.

Amazon isn’t alone in making accessibility a selling point for its smart speakers and screens. At Google’s I/O developer conference this year, it introduced a range of accessibility projects, including Live Caption, which transcribes real-time audio; Live Relay, for helping the deaf make phone calls; Project Diva, for helping those who don’t speak use smart assistants; and Project Euphonia, which helps make voice recognition work for those with speech impairments.

Show and Tell is available now to Alexa users in the U.S. on first and second-generation Echo Show devices.

 

Powered by WPeMatico

Amazon reportedly readying its Alexa-powered answer to AirPods

Posted by | AirPods, Alexa, Amazon, Apple, Gadgets, hardware, Mobile, virtual assistants, wireless earbuds | No Comments

Amazon is ready to challenge Apple with a cheaper, Alexa-powered set of wireless earbuds. If successful, it would carve out a space for the popular digital assistant, and its deep connections to the rest of Amazon’s ecosystem, in the mobile world Amazon has hitherto largely failed to penetrate. But that’s a big if.

A report from Bloomberg details the upcoming hardware, which sounds a lot like AirPods (and the handful of other wireless sets that have appeared): a pair of small wireless in-ear buds, a case that doubles as a charger and built-in controls and a mic so you can control your music, talk to friends and ask Alexa things on the go.

Of course, the obvious question is how exactly this will work, given that AirPods have special privileges as first-party Apple hardware that let them perform tasks others can’t yet do. If your phone is locked, non-AirPod headphones (for instance Galaxy Buds) can’t connect through their associated app to look stuff up or provide services. You can of course set up a “Hey Siri, OK Google” situation, but that’s a bit sad.

Bloomberg’s report says that the Alexa headphones let you “order goods, access music, weather and other information,” but it isn’t clear under what circumstances. If you have to have the phone unlocked and an app open for it to work, the whole thing is a non-starter. And it seems unlikely that Apple would grant Amazon some kind of clearance to do the kind of things only AirPods can do.

It’s conceivable that the headphones will, when possible, connect instead on detection of a command to a compatible Alexa device nearby with an internet connection — and there’s no shortage of those in many a tech-savvy home. But if you’re walking down the street and need to ask directions, you may have to pull the phone out, which rather negates the already somewhat limited convenience of owning a pair of wireless headphones.

These difficulties, plus those associated with simply making such a sophisticated piece of hardware for relatively cheap, explain why the headphones have reportedly had a bit of trouble getting shipped.

A cheaper price tag and potentially better audio quality may not be enough to make this particular endeavor a winner, but we’ll know more if and when Amazon goes official.

Powered by WPeMatico

You can now ask Alexa to control your Roku devices

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo, artificial intelligence, echo, Gadgets, Media, roku, Streaming Media, virtual assistant, voice assistant, voice search | No Comments

Roku this morning announced its devices will now be compatible with Amazon’s Alexa. Through a new Roku skill for Alexa, Roku owners will be able to control their devices in order to do things like launch a channel, play or pause a show, search for entertainment options and more. Roku TV owners will additionally be able to control various functions related to their television, like adjusting the volume, turning on and off the TV, switching inputs and changing channels if there is an over-the-air antenna attached.

The added support for Amazon Alexa will be available to devices running Roku OS 8.1 or higher, and will require that customers enable the new Roku skill, which will link their account to Amazon.

Roku has developed its own voice assistant designed specifically for its platform, which is available with a touch of a button on its voice remote as well as through optional accessories like its voice-powered wireless speakers, tabletop Roku Touch remote or TCL’s Roku-branded Smart Soundbar. However, it hasn’t ignored the needs of those who have invested in other voice platforms.

Already, Roku devices work with Google Assistant-powered devices, like Google Home and Google Home Mini, through a similar voice app launched last fall.

Support for the dominant streaming media platform — Amazon Alexa — was bound to be next. EMarketer said Amazon took two-thirds of smart speaker sales last year, and CIRP said Echo has a 70 percent U.S. market share.

The Roku app will work with any Alexa-enabled device, including the Amazon Echo, Echo Show, Echo Dot, Echo Spot and Echo Plus, as well as those powered by Alexa from third parties, the company confirmed to TechCrunch.

Once enabled, you’ll be able to say things like “Alexa, pause Roku,” or “Alexa, open Hulu on Roku,” or “Alexa, find comedies on Roku,” and more. The key will be starting the command with “Alexa,” as usual, then specify “Roku” is where the action should take place (e.g. “on Roku”).

One change with the launch of voice support via Alexa is that the commands are a bit more natural, in some cases. Whereas Google Assistant required users to say “Hey Google, pause on Roku,” the company today says the same command for Alexa users is “Alexa, pause Roku.” That’s a lot easier to remember and say. However, most of the other commands are fairly consistent between the two platforms.

“Consumers often have multiple voice ecosystems in their homes,” said Ilya Asnis, senior vice president of Roku OS at Roku, in a statement about the launch. “By allowing our customers to choose Alexa, in addition to Roku voice search and controls, and other popular voice assistants, we are strengthening the value Roku offers as a neutral platform in home entertainment.”

Powered by WPeMatico

Amazon has paused sales of its Echo Wall Clock due to connectivity issues

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo, clock, computing, Gadgets, microwave, Publishing, TC, world wide web | No Comments

Amazon launched an Echo Wall Clock before the end of last year but, less than a month later, things aren’t running to schedule. The e-commerce giant has paused the sale of the $30 Alexa-powered smart clock after a number of customers reported connectivity issues, according to The Verge.

The clock is still listed on Amazon but, as of Tuesday, it is “currently unavailable.”

“We’re aware that a small number of customers have had issues with connectivity. We’re working hard to address this and plan to make Echo Wall Clock available again in the coming weeks,” Amazon told The Verge in a statement.

The clock is pitched at existing Alexa users who could use it to set timers, countdowns or alarms, while it automatically adjusts to seasonal time changes. It is unashamedly basic, both in design as well as functionality, but it is an interesting addition to Amazon’s expanding home appliance push. That also includes an Alexa microwave (less impressive), a singing fish (ok…) along the more established cast of home speakers, the “Show” video screen, a subwoofer and more.

Powered by WPeMatico

Wrest control from a snooping smart speaker with this teachable ‘parasite’

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Alexa, artificial intelligence, connected devices, Europe, Gadgets, GitHub, Google, google home, hardware, Home Automation, Internet of Things, IoT, neural network, privacy, Security, smart assistant, smart speaker, Speaker | No Comments

What do you get when you put one internet-connected device on top of another? A little more control than you otherwise would in the case of Alias the “teachable ‘parasite’” — an IoT project smart speaker topper made by two designers, Bjørn Karmann and Tore Knudsen.

The Raspberry Pi-powered, fungus-inspired blob’s mission is to whisper sweet nonsense into Amazon Alexa’s (or Google Home’s) always-on ear so it can’t accidentally snoop on your home.

Project Alias from Bjørn Karmann on Vimeo.

Alias will only stop feeding noise into its host’s speakers when it hears its own wake command — which can be whatever you like.

The middleman IoT device has its own local neural network, allowing its owner to christen it with a name (or sound) of their choosing via a training interface in a companion app.

The open-source TensorFlow library was used for building the name training component.

So instead of having to say “Alexa” or “Ok Google” to talk to a commercial smart speaker — and thus being stuck parroting a big tech brand name in your own home, not to mention being saddled with a device that’s always vulnerable to vocal pranks (and worse: accidental wiretapping) — you get to control what the wake word is, thereby taking back a modicum of control over a natively privacy-hostile technology.

This means you could rename Alexa “Bezosallseeingeye,” or refer to your Google Home as “Carelesswhispers.” Whatever floats your boat.

Once Alias hears its custom wake command it will stop feeding noise into the host speaker — enabling the underlying smart assistant to hear and respond to commands as normal.

“We looked at how cordyceps fungus and viruses can appropriate and control insects to fulfill their own agendas and were inspired to create our own parasite for smart home systems,” explain Karmann and Knudsen in a write-up of the project here. “Therefore we started Project Alias to demonstrate how maker-culture can be used to redefine our relationship with smart home technologies, by delegating more power from the designers to the end users of the products.”

Alias offers a glimpse of a richly creative custom future for IoT, as the means of producing custom but still powerful connected technology products becomes more affordable and accessible.

And so also perhaps a partial answer to IoT’s privacy problem, for those who don’t want to abstain entirely. (Albeit, on the security front, more custom and controllable IoT does increase the hackable surface area — so that’s another element to bear in mind; more custom controls for greater privacy does not necessarily mesh with robust device security.)

If you’re hankering after your own Alexa-disrupting blob-topper, the pair have uploaded a build guide to Instructables and put the source code on GitHub. So fill yer boots.

Project Alias is of course not a solution to the underlying tracking problem of smart assistants — which harvest insights gleaned from voice commands to further flesh out interest profiles of users, including for ad targeting purposes.

That would require either proper privacy regulation or, er, a new kind of software virus that infiltrates the host system and prevents it from accessing user data. And — unlike this creative physical IoT add-on — that kind of tech would not be at all legal.

Powered by WPeMatico

The Sims gets its own in-game Alexa-style assistant, Lin-Z

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, ea, Gaming, The Sims | No Comments

There’s nothing like The Sims to log off from reality for a bit. Getting away from the increasingly ubiquitous world of smart assistants, on the other hand, is a different matter entirely. EA announced this week that the perennial favorite life simulation series is getting its very own smart assistant.

Lin-Z is a lot like an in-game version of Alexa — or, for that matter, Google Assistant or Siri or Bixby or Cortana, et al. Accessed via a smart speaker with a familiar glowing green diamond, the assistant can play music, do trivia, tell jokes, turns lights on and off (smart home!) and order different services, like food, gardening and repair.

That feature is available this week in The Sims 4 for PC and Mac. Fittingly, the real Alexa is also getting a bunch of Sims-related skills, including trivia and the ability to play songs from the game’s soundtrack. That one’s available for users in Australia, Canada, India, the U.S. and the U.K., for those looking to further blur the lines of reality.

Powered by WPeMatico