After being under development for at least four years, Amazon finally presented the Amazon Echo on November 6, 2014. Starting at AUD $258.48 (or AUD $193.53 for Amazon Prime members), this voice commanded device can play music and provide information, news, weather, and more making it the ultimate home automation companion. There has been some advancements in the last few months with the release of its API, which now allows (with a bit of creative programing) the ability to control select home automation systems via voice control.
Amazon Echo is a 9 – inch (23cm) tall black, metal cylinder device that consists of a seven-piece microphone array and speakers that include a 2.5-inch woofer and a 2-inch tweeter. The device takes up little space wherever it may be placed considering its 3.27-inch diameter.
The internet-connected hardware device allows support for Amazon’s virtual assistant platform, called Alexa. This platform works similarly to Google Now or Apple’s Siri. Echo continuously listens to all speech, monitoring for the “wake word”, Alexa, to be spoken. This always on information service allows it to easily become your home’s central hub for information. Alternatively, a manually and voice-activated remote control that comes with the device can be used instead of the wake word. A mute button can also be pressed to disable the audio processing circuit and turn off Echo’s microphones for those worried about the potential harmful uses of Amazon having their voice data 24/7.
The voice recognition ability of the device is based both on Amazon Web Services and the common voice platform Amazon acquired from Yap, Evi, and Ivona, a Polish-based specialist in voice technology used in the Kindle Fire. The microphone array on Echo can detect and correctly interpret voice commands up to 30 feet away. Even while Echo is playing music, enhanced noise cancellation allows Echo to accurately interpret a user’s voice command.
Echo’s ability to function through voice commands makes streaming music both enjoyable and easy for its user. Music can be streamed from Amazon’s Prime Music library, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, and even Pandora. Any user can simply tell Alexa to play a certain artist, genre, album, or song. Other voice commands include turning the volume up or down, skipping songs, and “thumbs up/down” a song on Pandora or iHeartRadio. This hands-free-feature becomes very useful when a user is occupied and cannot control music manually.
On top of this very easy to use music streaming, Echo serves as a source of weather and news from a range of sources including local radio stations, NPR, and ESPN. Outside of that, Echo is great for quick web searches like the word definitions and conversions. Echo can also access Wikipedia articles, set alarms or timers, and create shopping or to-do lists.
With recent updates, the Amazon Echo can also read out an audiobook to its user. Another update also enabled Echo control over WeMo and Hue smart home appliances. This gives Echo’s user to control things ranging from hallway lights to coffee makers, epitomizing the true applicable uses of this device as a central home automation device.
Overall, the Amazon Echo is great to use for streaming music because the voice control allows for an easy to use experience. The Echo is also great to use for providing quick information and controlling connected devices. It certainly is not the first of its kind, but Amazon is going in the right step in the field of home automation to make it more widespread and in more consumer’s homes.
Purchases are only available from the Amazon site after requesting an invitation and no word yet on when it will officially be available for international sale. We already have a few different options available for voice control of automation systems, but when big comapnies like Amazon join the fray, its exiting times ahead.
Read more about the Amazon Echo here: http://www.amazon.com/oc/echo/ref_=ods_dp_ae and talk to us about how we can work with you for the ultimate home automation experience.