Tuesday, Amazon held its annual devices and services event, announcing several new Amazon products and features.
We saw a new smart thermostat, the Echo Show 15 wall-mountable, and the Amazon Glow for kids.
There were additional Blink products on display, as well as the new Ring Alarm Pro service for monitoring your home in real-time while you’re away.
The Always Home Cam drone showed up naturally, but Astro, the robot, stole the show.
Behind those eye-catching new devices were several significant updates to Alexa and the Echo platform as a whole.
Let’s take a look at everything new you’ll be able to do with your voice assistant shortly.
‘Hey, Disney’ allows you to communicate with Disney characters and manage hotel reservations
Amazon has partnered with Disney to create a custom voice assistant for Echo devices. By simply saying, “Hey, Disney,” you’ll soon be able to access an entirely new world (sorry) of related content.
The feature makes use of Amazon’s new third-party Amazon Custom Assistant program.
Verizon teased the program’s service with its upcoming brilliant display and associated the “Hi, Verizon” command.
How you’ll use it
The new Disney feature is focused on the Disney Hotel experience, which means that when you stay in a Disney hotel room equipped with an Echo device (approximately 30,000 Echo Show 5s are on their way to Disney properties), you’ll be able to access a wealth of information about your stay and nearby amenities.
According to Amazon, the assistant can assist guests with room requests such as requesting additional towels and baggage and checkout.
It can also provide information about the resort, such as when the next bus to Epcot departs, where an Italian restaurant is located, and what time each park opens and closes.
The Disney feature at home will provide interactive games, stories, jokes, and sing-alongs narrated by famous Disney characters.
The feature will be available to hotel guests and a paid add-on for Echo devices in your home beginning next year.
Why it matters
Besides being a fun (but annoyingly not free) feature for Echo devices, it demonstrates what brands can do with custom assistants.
Hotels, restaurants, and theme parks may soon offer their assistants to assist visitors. Disney’s film is the first to be released, but it most certainly will not be the last.
Visual ID provides personalized experiences
What has changed
Amazon announced Visual ID, a facial recognition feature that will recognize you whenever you look into the Echo Show 15 camera, allowing Alexa to deliver personalized content.
It is currently only available on the Echo Show 15, as it is the first device to incorporate Amazon’s new AZ2 neural processing chip.
The AZ2 chip can process computer vision (what the camera sees) locally on the device without sending data to the cloud.
Visual ID is an optional feature that is disabled by default. To use the quality, you must opt-in and enroll in your facial profile.
According to the company, this profile will not be sent to any other devices.
How do you intend to use it
Visual identification will not require any additional voice commands. After opting in and enrolling your face, walk into the camera’s view of the Echo Show 15.
You’ll then be able to view items such as to-do lists, sticky notes, calendar appointments, and recipes that are tailored to your dietary needs.
Additionally, Amazon’s use of facial recognition technology in its other innovative home products has sparked outrage from privacy advocates.
In December 2019, the personal information of thousands of Amazon Ring users was exposed.
The ring has since updated its security policies to require two-factor authentication, added end-to-end video encryption, and added support for CAPTCHA and authenticator apps.
Custom Sounds can be used to train Alexa to recognize specific noises
Alexa Guard can listen for sounds such as glass breaking or smoke and CO2 alarms activating and randomly dim intelligent lights to create the illusion of someone being home.
Custom Sounds are now available on Amazon’s Echo devices, independent of Alexa Guard or the paid Alexa Guard Plus.
Alexa will learn how to respond to a specific sound when it is detected. Next year, the feature will be available.
How you’ll use it
While details about how you’ll train Alexa to listen for the sounds are not yet available, once you do, notifications and associated imaginative home responses can be triggered when the selected sound occurs.
If Alexa detects the sound of your doorbell ringing, for example, a smart bulb in your home may flash, or you may receive a notification on your preferred device (s).
Additional information about Alexa Guard
Alexa Guard Plus is a paid subscription service available for Echo devices.
It costs $5 per month or $49 per year and includes a 24-hour helpline, alerts when your device detects footsteps, doors closing, or glass breaking, and automatic deterrents such as the sound of a dog barking being played from your smart speaker.
Widgets allow you to personalize your Echo Shows
Amazon has announced Widgets for Echo Show devices. These convenient on-screen information blocks can be customized and rearranged for your household or, if you’re using an Echo Show 15 with Visual ID, for you specifically.
Calendars, What to Eat for recipe recommendations, Your Deliveries for package tracking, Smart Home Favorites for controlling your most frequently used devices, and Sticky Notes for quick reminders are just a few of the widget options.
How you’ll use it
The Echo Show’s displays will be redesigned to include widget support. You can drag and drop customizable widgets onto the main screen from a gallery.
After selecting your widgets and customizing your preferences, remove them to the bottom two-thirds of your Show device.
Keep an eye out for widgets that are not limited to Amazon-developed Alexa functionality.
Because developers can create their devices, third-party developers and their Alexa skills will likely add many more in the coming months.
Together, you and Alexa can look after your loved ones
Amazon’s Care Hub is not new, as the company launched the free custom alerts service for caregivers in 2020.
Alexa Together, a $20-per-month subscription service that enables emergency alerts and responses, is the company’s expansion of the elder and dependent care proposition.
It includes hands-free access to an Urgent Response professional emergency helpline and compatibility with ATS and Vayyar third-party fall detection devices.
A Remote Assist feature enables caregivers to set reminders, assist in managing shopping lists, and more.
Amazon is offering a one-year free subscription to Alexa Care Hub users when it launches later this year.
How you’ll use it
You can ask Alexa to summon assistance and connect you with emergency responders, as well as send a notification to a family member.
Family members will connect their accounts and use these features for their loved ones on their own devices starting next year.
Safety services such as this one are slowly gaining traction in the market for smart devices. It began with wearables in 2018, with the Apple Watch Series 4 with Fall Detection.
With cameras and displays already saturating the market, more of the same is likely as updates continue.
Using on-device processing, you can keep data out of the cloud
The Amazon Echo and Echo Show 10 will be equipped with Amazon’s AZ1 neural processing chip when they launched in 2020.
This chip can process voice and sound data locally, avoiding the need for cloud-based recordings.
Amazon has finally added a setting in your data settings that allows you to choose local processing.
Additionally, the feature will be available on the upcoming Echo Show 15.
How to use it
This new setting is accessible via the Alexa app. When local processing is enabled, voice recordings are processed locally and then deleted automatically.
However, text transcripts will continue to be sent to the cloud and stored in the Alexa app until manually deleted.
Why it matters
As previously stated, Amazon’s track record about data privacy is murky at best.
Extending users’ control over their voice recording data is a long-overdue step forward for Echo devices.
Say less with Alexa’s ultrasonic routines
The latest Echo and Echo Dot speakers will support ultrasonic routines.
Google incorporates this technology into its intelligent devices, and Alexa already had presence sensing capabilities before the event, though it was camera-based on the Echo Show devices.
Amazon is incorporating ultrasonic sensing to enable routines to begin when you enter or exit a room.
How to use it
In the Alexa app, you’ll be able to create a motion-based routine. Your device will emit an inaudible ultrasound wave that will bounce off nearby objects through the speakers, detecting any movement.
The way is triggered when motion is detected—for instance, turning on lights when you enter a room or powering down a device when you leave.
This feature ties into Amazon’s emphasis on ambient computing, the idea that devices will become increasingly self-sufficient without requiring you to say “Alexa” for everything.
Ultrasonic presence sensing is an excellent illustration of this and maybe the key to genuinely automating the intelligent home without relying on voice commands.