Have you ever watched or heard of a TV show call Eureka? In the show, one of the main character, Sheriff Carter lives in a smart house named S.A.R.A.H (Self-Actuated Residential Automated Habitat). Sarah is the artificial intelligent (AI) system that runs the house, senses the habitant’s mood, provides conversations, security, etc. Kind of like how Jarvis interacts with Tony Stark in Iron Man.
Recently we’ve been fortunate to use Amazon’s new device called Echo. It’s a voice-activated personal assistant and Bluetooth speaker. In some ways, as the device was being used, it felt like having our own, yet very basic and rudimentary, limited version of a Jarvis or a Sarah. Someday, as more development is thrown at Echo and as the Internet of Things (IoT) gain momentum and more integrated devices are developed to connect our personal devices and accounts to create an interactive home automation system, office automation or voice activated purchases; some will see it as an invasion of our privacy because it’s always listening, contributes to our loss of short term memory (laziness) or overall making life more convenient. Any way you look at it, bad or good, from a simple techie point of view, having a Sarah or Jarvis could be wonderful.
Echo works similar to Siri, Cortana or how “Ok Google” and voice search is used on an Android, Windows or Apple device. Echo sits in the background waiting for your command, listening for you to call it. For Echo, you can use either “Alexa” or “Amazon” to wake it up, and you may ask it a question, or give it a command.
It has 7 built in microphones to help pick up your voice and overall, it does a fantastic job at understanding you.
We really enjoyed the fact, that we can say “Alexa, news flash” and it will connect to TuneIn Radio and play a section from NPR. If we ask it, “Alexa, what’s 1 + 1,” it will answer 2. Or if we say “Alexa, shuffle music” it will shuffle your Amazon music library. If we say “Alexa, volume up or down,” it will do just that. There are a slew of commands and ways of saying something, and it usually will interpret it correctly, using natural language. With the app on your iPhone or Android device, you can help improve its voice recognition by letting Amazon know if it heard your query correctly.
Overall, as a digital assistant and Bluetooth speaker, it does it well, for our expectation and basic needs. The speaker has a nice low rumble bass to it, and it can get pretty loud. But we’ve never tried putting it to the max to see how distorted the sound would get. It does an overall good job at filling a room at a low volume setting. Sadly though, the Bluetooth only work as a speaker. You can’t use it as a speakerphone even though it has 7 mics.
Overtime it learns to adapt to your voice, speech patterns, vocabulary, and personal preferences and it adapts to different voices of those in your household that would frequently use it. The Amazon Echo application can be installed on Apple’s iOS or Android device to control your Amazon music playlist, iHeart Radio or TuneIn account. When paired with your phone, tablet or computer, you can stream Pandora, Nokia Music, and other streaming music services through it. It comes with a remote control and cradle that you can stick to practically any surface using their included double-sided tape. The cradle has a magnet that holds the controller. The remote is handy in a noisy environments and works similar to Amazon’s fire TV remote. Press the mic button and speak into it. Or press stop, next, back on the controller, so you don’t have to say “Alexa, play next,” if you are to far away or just don’t want to give it a verbal command.
For the basics, it works well, and it is convenient to have. Hopefully Amazon will put more into Echo’s development and be a success as an integrated hub for the Internet of Things and devices that it sells online, but it has a ways to go.
*Images from http://www.amazon.com/oc/echo