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Amazon Echo (shortened and referred to as Echo) is a smart speaker developed by Amazon.com. The device consists of a 9.25 inch (23.5 cm) tall cylinder speaker with a seven-piece microphone array.[1] The device connects to the voice-controlled intelligent personal assistant service Alexa, which responds to the name "Alexa". This "wake word" can be changed by the user to "Amazon", "Echo" or "Computer".[2][3] The device is capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, and providing weather, traffic and other real time information. It can also control several smart devices using itself as a home automation hub. As of July 2017, the Echo maintained an 83% score on GearCaliber, a review aggregator. The Echo Dot maintained a 93% score.

Amazon Echo
AmazonEchoLogo.png
Amazon Echo.jpg
Amazon Echo
Developer Amazon.com
Manufacturer Amazon.com
Type Smart voice-enabled wireless speaker
Release date
  • November 6, 2014 (2014-11-06) (Amazon Prime and invited members)
  • June 23, 2015 (2015-06-23) (released in the U.S.)
  • September 28, 2016 (2016-09-28) (released in the U.K.)
  • October 26, 2016 (2016-10-26) (released in Germany)
Introductory price US$179.99
GB£149.99
EUR€179.99
Operating system Fire OS
Input Voice command
Connectivity WiFi and Bluetooth
Website Amazon Echo (US)
Amazon Echo (UK)
Amazon Echo (Germany)

Amazon had been developing Echo inside its Lab126 offices in Silicon Valley and Cambridge, Massachusetts since at least 2010 in confirmed reports. The device was part of Amazon’s first attempts to expand its device portfolio beyond the Kindle e-reader.[1] The Echo was prominently featured in Amazon's first-ever Super Bowl ad in 2016.[4]

Echo was initially limited to Amazon Prime members or by invitation, but became widely available in the United States on June 23, 2015.[5] Press speculated that it would make its Canadian debut in mid-to-late 2016, after Amazon posted job listings for developers for Alexa and co-hosted a hackathon in Toronto.[6] The Echo became available in the United Kingdom on 28 September 2016.[7][8] Additionally, the Alexa voice service is available to be added to other devices and other companies' devices and services are encouraged to connect to it.[9]

Contents

FeaturesEdit

Overview of operationEdit

In the default mode the device continuously listens to all speech, monitoring for the wake word to be spoken, which is primarily set up as "Alexa" (derived from Alexa Internet, the Amazon-owned Internet indexing company). The device also comes with a manually and voice-activated remote control which can be used in lieu of the 'wake word'. Echo's microphones can be manually disabled by pressing a mute button to turn off the audio processing circuit.[1]

Echo requires a wireless internet connection in order to work. Echo's voice recognition capability is based on Amazon Web Services and the voice platform Amazon acquired from Yap,[10] Evi, and IVONA[11] (a Polish-based specialist in voice technologies used in the Kindle Fire).[12]

Echo performs well with a 'good' (low latency) Internet connection which minimizes processing time due to minimal communication round trips, streamable responses and geo-distributed service endpoints. While the app is free, an Amazon account is required, and setup is not possible without one.

Available servicesEdit

Echo offers weather from AccuWeather and news from a variety of sources, including local radio stations, iHeartRadio, NPR, and ESPN from TuneIn.[13] Echo can play music from the owner's Amazon Music accounts[14] and has built-in support for the Pandora and Spotify streaming music services[15] and has support for IFTTT and Nest thermostats.[16] Echo can also play music from streaming services such as Apple Music, and Google Play Music from a phone or tablet. Echo maintains voice-controlled alarms, timers, shopping and to-do lists and can access Wikipedia articles. Echo will respond to your questions about items in your Google calendar. It also integrates with Yonomi,[17] Philips Hue, Belkin Wemo, SmartThings, Insteon, and Wink.[18][19] Additionally, integration with the Echo is in the works for Countertop by Orange Chef, Sonos,[20] Scout Alarm, Garageio, Toymail, MARA, and Mojio.[21] Questions like "Who is Kim Kardashian?" are answered by reading the first few lines of the corresponding Wikipedia article.[22]

It does not appear to be capable of playing music streamed from a local UPnP/DLNA media server.

Echo also has access to 'skills' built with the Alexa Skills Kit. These are 3rd-party developed voice experiences that add to the capabilities of any Alexa-enabled device (such as the Echo). Examples of skills include the ability to play music, answer general questions, set an alarm, order a pizza, get an Uber, and more. Skills are continuously being added to increase the capabilities available to the user. The Alexa Skills Kit is a collection of self-service APIs, tools, documentation and code samples that make it fast and easy for any developer to add skills to Alexa. Developers can also use the "Smart Home Skill API",[23] a new addition to the Alexa Skills Kit, to easily teach Alexa how to control cloud-controlled lighting and thermostat devices. All of the code runs in the cloud – nothing is on any user device. A developer can follow tutorials to learn how to quickly build voice experiences for their new and existing applications.[24]

Voice systemEdit

Echo's natural life-like voices result from speech-unit technology.[25] High speech accuracy is achieved through sophisticated natural language processing (NLP) algorithms built into the Echo's text-to-speech (TTS) engine.

Software updatesEdit

The Echo functionality periodically evolves as Amazon releases new software for it. Most new releases will fix bugs in addition to including enhanced functionality. New releases are pushed to the devices on a gradual basis so it may take several days to a week or more for a particular device to be updated. Because much of Echo's intelligence lies in the cloud, significant functional enhancements can be made to Echo without updating the software version it is running. For example, in April 2015, the Echo added the ability to give live sports scores without updating the software version,[26] running on the device.

HardwareEdit

 
Amazon Echo unpacked, January 2015

The Echo hardware complement includes a Texas Instruments DM3725 ARM Cortex-A8 processor, 256MB of LPDDR1 RAM and 4GB of storage space.[27]

ConnectivityEdit

Echo provides dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n and Bluetooth Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) support for audio streaming and Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP) for voice control of connected mobile devices.[28]

InputEdit

Although the Echo is intended to be voice-controlled at the unit, a microphone-enabled remote control similar to the one bundled with the Fire TV is available for purchase. An action button on top of the unit is provided for user setup in a new location, and the mute button allows the microphones to be turned off.[29] The top half-inch of the unit rotates to increase or decrease the speaker volume. The Echo must be plugged in to operate since it has no internal battery.[30]

Related devicesEdit

Amazon Echo DotEdit

 
The black Amazon Echo Dot (second generation) sitting idle on a wood surface.

In March 2016, Amazon unveiled the original Amazon Echo Dot,[31] which is a hockey puck sized version of the Echo designed to be connected to external speakers due to size of the onboard speakers, or to be used in rooms such as the bedroom as an alternative to the full-sized Echo. Beyond these distinctions, the Amazon Echo Dot possesses the same functions as the original Amazon Echo.[32]

The second generation of the Amazon Echo Dot was available on October 20, 2016. It is priced lower, has improved voice recognition, and is available in black and white. The Echo Spatial Perception (ESP) technology allows several Echo and Dot units to work together so that only one device answers the request.[citation needed]

Amazon TapEdit

The Amazon Tap[33] is a smaller portable version of the Echo.

The Amazon Tap can do the same things as the Echo; however, it is battery powered so it is portable. Initially the user had to press an activation button on the front of the Tap to speak commands. However, a February 2017 software update allows the option of activating the Tap with an activation word, just like the Echo and the Dot.

Amazon Echo LookEdit

In April 2017, Amazon introduced a camera with Alexa built in, for $20 more than the Echo.[34] The device can provide artificial intelligence outfit recommendations, take selfies, and record videos; in addition to the features available on the Echo.[35] It offers Amazon Alexa's key feature plus a camera to take full-length photos and 360-degree videos with built-in AI for fashion advice.[36][37] As a consumer product, it helps catalog your outfits and rates your look based on “machine learning algorithms with advice from fashion specialists.[38]

As of April 2017, the device is available for purchase by invite only in the U.S.[39]

 
The Amazon Echo Show

Amazon Echo ShowEdit

In May 2017, Amazon introduced the Echo Show, which features a tactile 7-inch LCD screen that can be used for playing media, making video calls (5 MP front camera), and other features.[40] The Echo Show was offered for purchase at a price of $229.99  on June 28, 2017 and is initially only available in the U.S.[41]

Privacy concernsEdit

There are concerns about the access Echo has to private conversations in the home, or other non-verbal indications that can identify who is present in the home and who is not—based on audible cues such as footstep-cadence or radio/television programming.[42][43] Amazon responds to these concerns by stating that Echo only streams recordings from the user's home when the 'wake word' activates the device, though the device is technically capable of streaming voice recordings at all times, and in fact will always be listening to detect if a user has uttered the word.

Echo uses past voice recordings the user has sent to the cloud service to improve response to future questions the user may pose. To address privacy concerns, the user can delete voice recordings that are currently associated with the user's account, but doing so may degrade the user's experience using voice search. To delete these recordings, the user can visit the Manage My Device page on Amazon.com or contact Amazon customer service.

Echo uses an address set in the Alexa companion app when it needs a location.[44] Amazon and third-party apps and websites use location information to provide location-based services and store this information to provide voice services, the Maps app, Find Your Device, and to monitor the performance and accuracy of location services. For example, Echo voice services use the user's location to respond to the user's requests for nearby restaurants or stores. Similarly, Echo uses the user's location to process the user's mapping-related requests and improve the Maps experience. All information collected is subject to the Amazon.com Privacy Notice.[45]

Amazon retains digital recordings of users' audio spoken after the "wake up word", and while the audio recordings are subject to demands by law enforcement, government agents, and other entities via subpoena, Amazon publishes some information about the warrants it receives, the subpoenas it receives, and some of the warrant-less demands it receives, allowing customers some indication as to the percentage of illegal demands for customer information it receives.[46]

Echo as criminal evidenceEdit

Police have been investigating the death of Victor Collins, which occurred on November 22, 2015, in the home of James Andrew Bates, in Bentonville, Arkansas. Citing privacy concerns, Amazon refused to turn over Echo data to authorities.[47][48] This stand-off was resolved when Bates consented to the release of his personal information that was held by Amazon.[49][50]

LimitationsEdit

Purchasing merchandise in the categories of apparel, shoes, jewelry, and watches is not available.[51] In addition, Amazon Fresh, Prime Pantry, Prime Now, or Add-On items are not supported by Alexa's ordering function,[52] while, the shopping list function allows no more than one item to be added at a time.[53]

Echo has provided inconsistent responses when asked common questions to which users would expect better answers. Echo sometimes confuses certain homophones (words that sound the same but have different meanings, such as where/wear/ware).[54]

The current location of the device is set to Seattle (Amazon headquarters) by default and must be changed manually, but can only be set to a location within the United States, United Kingdom, or Germany. This varies from smartphone-based voice assistants that are able to identify the current location via built-in GPS receivers. This lack of automatic location determination can result in seemingly "wrong" results for questions that assume the location such as "What is the weather" (around here) or "Set an alarm for 10:00am" (which assumes that the Echo device is set to local time).

There have been several attempts to circumvent the United States only restriction, particularly by users in Europe and Australia. One of these involves setting the Echo to a timezone that is exactly 12 hours different from the local time. For example, if the current time in London is 11:30am, the user can set Echo to Hawaii Standard Time, which would be 11:30 pm. This would enable Echo to report the correct time. This attempt to bypass Amazon's restrictions results in two undesirable side effects:

  1. incorrect AM/PM notation, and
  2. incorrect date.

A more sophisticated means of relocating an Echo device outside of its intended geographic limitations involves manipulating the data that is transmitted and received by Amazon's servers. This is described by user "stonewater" on the unofficial Amazon Echo forum.[55] This method produces accurate results, but requires technological expertise, using Request Maker for Chrome.

Interaction and communication with Echo is currently available in English and German languages.

ReferencesEdit

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  4. ^ Amazon’s first-ever Super Bowl commercial stars Alec Baldwin, Dan Marino, Missy Elliott / Geekwire, February 7, 2016
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  6. ^ McConnell, Josh. "New Amazon job postings fuel speculation about possible Echo Canadian launch". Financial Post. Postmedia Network Inc. Retrieved July 4, 2016. 
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  35. ^ Hartmans, Avery (26 April 2017). "Amazon's new Echo device is a hands-free camera that helps you decide what to wear". Business Insider. Retrieved 27 April 2017. 
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External linksEdit