Launch event sees Amazon offer more conversational interactions with Alexa, after upgrading it with generative AI capabilities
Amazon has reacted to the growing competition from the likes OpenAI’c ChatGPT and Google Bard, by updating its Alexa voice assistant with generative artificial intelligence capabilities.
At the company’s annual product launch in Arlington, Virginia, Amazon showed off updates to Alexa, which should signal an end to Alexa’s usual robotic tone for the past decade, and allow for more natural sounding conversations. It should also allow for hands free emergency calling (for a monthly fee).
Amazon at the event also revealed updates to the Echo Frames eyeglasses (with Alexa embedded for when a person is outside the home), refreshed versions of its Blink outdoor security cameras; Eero Wi-Fi 7 mesh extenders; refreshed versions of children’s Fire tablets; a soundbar for televisions; and new search capabilities on the FireTV service, to name but a few.
Amazon also unveiled a new smart home controller, namely a $180 Echo Hub wall-mounted touchscreen for controlling gadgets throughout the home.
Generative AI and Alexa
Perhaps the most noteworthy announcement was Amazon adding generative artificial intelligence capabilities to its Alexa voice assistant.
“Today, we shared a preview of an even smarter, and more conversational Alexa, powered by generative AI,” said Amazon. “It’s based on a new large language model that’s been custom-built and specifically optimised for voice interactions, and the things we know our customers love – getting real-time information, efficient smart home control, and maximizing their home entertainment.”
Amazon said customers in the US will soon be able to preview some of the capabilities enabled by generative AI by saying, “Alexa, let’s chat” to Echo devices they already own.
Amazon said Alexa “will feel more natural and conversational than ever before, and Alexa’s ability to reason, infer customer intent, and understand complex requests will remarkably improve.”
Amazon did provide a full list of updates coming to Alexa, but cited some following examples:
- Eye Gaze Mode: Instead of using voice or touch, customers with speech or mobility disabilities can gaze at their tablet to perform pre-set Alexa actions such as playing music and shows, control their home environment, and even call loved ones – entirely hands, and voice, free. It will be available at no additional cost later this year on Fire Max 11 Tablets in the US, UK, Germany, and Japan.
- Call Translation: Your Alexa audio and video calls can be translated in real time, and will launch to Echo Show and Alexa mobile app customers in the US, UK, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain later this year in over 10 languages including English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.
- Alexa Emergency Assist: This at-home hands-free safety service, with features such as 24/7 Urgent Response, Smart Alerts, and Emergency Contacts. New US customers can subscribe to Alexa Emergency Assist for $5.99 per month or $59 per year.
- Game Start Routines: Create custom Routines that are automatically initiated when a person’s favourite team’s game begins.
- Email to Alexa: Have Alexa help a person manage their family calendar. Just send an email, invite, or photo of an event directly to Alexa. Alexa will then extract the event details, add it to a person’s calendar, and send them a confirmation.
- Top Connections: Add the Top Connections widget to the Echo Show 8, 10, and 15 devices to see favourite contacts or most frequently used devices within the household. A person can then quickly initiate a call or drop-in with a single tap.
- Profile-level Voice Customisation: This update lets the user change Alexa’s voice for each individual profile, so they will hear the selected voice no matter which device is used.
Amazon also updated its wearable device, Echo Frames, which are smart glasses that let the user take Alexa on the go.
The all-new Echo Frames and Carrera Smart Glasses collection combines high-end fashion with Alexa technology.
There are seven stylish options, and they all come with multiple lens options, including sunglass lenses, prescription-ready, or blue light lenses.
They also come with up to six hours of continuous media playback or talk time, or up to 14 hours of moderate usage on a full battery charge.
Echo Show 8, Echo Hub
Amazon also showed off a sleeker Echo Show 8, as well as a new photo sharing feature that will allow users to share photos with family and friends across any Fire TV or Echo Show device.
But to control a smart home, Amazon has introduced the Echo Hub, which is a wall-mountable smart home control panel powered by Alexa. It comes with an eight-inch touch screen and customisable dashboard for all a person’s smart home devices.
People can use it arm their security system, start a Routine, turn on the fan, or change the volume on an Echo device.
A person can also view multiple live camera feeds at the same time.
Echo Hub will be available later this year for $179.99.
Amazon is also offering Map View, which is a new way to manage a smart home, from a phone, as it creates a digital map of a home’s floor plan and pin connected devices to it.
Meanwhile Amazon also unveiled eero Max 7, which is it’s first Wi-Fi 7 mesh system, that capable of 10 Gigabit Ethernet. It will be available soon in one, two-, and three-packs starting at $599.99.
Amazon also updated its Blink and Ring home security product as well.