Amazon beefs up Echo's ability to connect in the home

Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) is adding new capabilities to its Wi-Fi-connected speaker and virtual assistant Echo, such as the ability to remotely operate lights and appliances.   

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Amazon is adding more features to the $200 Echo. (Image source: Amazon)

Amazon informed Echo owners about the new services in an email this week, multiple sources reported. Echo now supports a variety of connected devices from companies like WeMo and Hue.

With Echo, users have the ability to get traffic information, access sports schedules, play a pop station on Pandora and turn off the lights.

Amazon says Echo's brain is in the cloud, running on Amazon Web Services so it continually learns and adds more functionality over time. The more it gets used, the more Echo adapts to the user's speech patterns, vocabulary and personal preferences.

Like other web-enabled devices, Echo is always on. When it hears its "wake word," which is either Alexa or Amazon, it will search the Web to answer questions, play music stored on remote servers or fulfill customer orders through voice prompts.

If it all sounds a lot like Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) Siri, Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) Now and Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Cortana, that's because it is facing competition from all of those and more, as The Wall Street Journal reports. After all, the connected home has a lot of company in the Internet of Things (IoT).

Under Echo's light ring is an array of seven microphones. The sensors use beam-forming technology to hear from any direction, and with enhanced noise cancellation, Echo can hear a question being asked even while it's playing music. Echo uses on-device keyword spotting to detect the wake word, according to Amazon. When Echo detects the wake word, it lights up and streams audio to the cloud, where Amazon leverages Amazon Web Services to recognize and respond to a request.

Echo's new features use power outlets from Belkin's WeMo unit and Hue light bulbs from Philips, both of which can connect to a home's Wi-Fi network. Three WeMo products, including a light switch, will now work with the Echo, as well as five different Philips light bulbs. The company didn't say whether it would enable other companies' devices to work in tandem with the Echo, the WSJ notes.

While various technologies are vying for a spot at the IoT table, Wi-Fi advocates say Wi-Fi is ideally suited for the IoT because of its low cost, low power requirements, scalable deployments, IP addressing scheme and security, among other things.

For more:
- see this Wall Street Journal article (sub. req.)
- see this TechCrunch article
- see this CNET article
- see this SlashGear article

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