Thursday, October 21, 2021

Amazon working on big wall Echo, sound bar, new auto device

by Mark Gurman and Priya Anand | bloomberg

Amazon.com is developing a slew of new devices and services as it reaches additional markets, including a larger Echo with a wall-mountable screen, a TV sound bar, more advanced car technology and wearable gear.

The tech giant is working on the initiative in its Lab126 division, which created hit products like the original Echo and Alexa voice assistants. The Seattle-based company is holding a launch event for the new devices and services on September 28, and some of these product details could be announced at that time. Other products may be launched in the next year or so – or may be scrapped if they don’t show enough promise.

echo for the walls

According to internal documents and people familiar with the matter, the company is planning a larger Alexa-controlled Echo with a roughly 15-inch display, codenamed Hoya, that can be mounted either on a wall or a table with a stand. can be kept on. The device is designed as a smart-home control panel for activating appliances, lights, and locks. It can also serve as a window into the status of inbound Amazon packages. And the product will have a user interface that can show widgets for weather, timers, calendar appointments and photos.

Amazon is designing the device to appeal to users in the kitchen, allowing them to view recipes or watch cooking videos. Like other Amazon products, it will also run third-party video streaming apps like Netflix. Bloomberg News reported in February that Amazon had tested similar versions of the concept with smaller displays and is targeting a launch this fall or next year.

It’s part of a push towards more Echo products with visual displays. The company has found that customers engage more with devices with screens than with audio-only smart speakers.

An Amazon representative declined to comment.

Home Robot

Outside of its Alexa division, Amazon has been working on a home robot called Vesta for several years. But that product is nothing short of a sure thing. One of the people with knowledge of the matter said that the robot has expressed concerns over its viability to employees, including co-founder and chairman Jeff Bezos.

The robot was conceived as a security device using the Alexa interface. But that focus has shifted as Amazon’s Ring lineup, which began as a smart doorbell, solidifies its role as the company’s core security offering. Amazon announced a Ring-branded flying security camera drone last year, and now it’s hard to tell where the robot fits in. Some inside Amazon have questioned the usefulness of Alexa with a screen that follows a user.

If the device does eventually launch, it will likely be a low-volume item with a higher price tag: some early versions were expected to cost around $1,000. Several months ago, Amazon began testing prototypes inside employee homes. One version had a display of about 7 inches, while the other had a 10-inch screen that could adjust automatically. It will follow a user around and can remind them of upcoming calendar events. Computer vision technology was seen to be effective, which was able to accurately map the layout of the house. However, it lacks weapons and stairs cannot be used.

Bloomberg first reported the robot’s existence in 2018 and gave more details about the product’s development in 2019.

sound bar and car

Amazon has also rolled out a sound bar for TVs—a tall, horizontal device for beaming sound across the room. The company originally planned to release it in 2021, but is unlikely to meet that shipping timeline now. However, Amazon often announces new products a few months before release.

There are already a number of third-party sound bars with Alexa support, but Amazon sees room for its own spin on the concept. Amazon is working on a version with a front-facing camera. The product, codenamed Harmony, will also allow customers to make video calls from their TVs — similar to Facebook Inc’s Portal product — according to internal documents. Amazon announced its line of low-cost TVs earlier this month.

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The company is also planning to make a big push in the automotive space. Amazon is working on a second generation model of its Echo Auto technology called the Marion. The current product, which has been panned by some consumers, pairs with a smartphone over Bluetooth and lets you access Alexa through the car’s speakers using the device’s microphone. The updated version will feature a new design and may be able to charge the user’s device with inductive technology.

Amazon is also building closer ties with car makers. The company recently started a deep partnership with Ford Motor Company to embed Alexa in 700,000 cars this year. That system lets users access Alexa directly from the Dashboard entertainment system without having to phone, download apps, or press a button. Amazon is now exploring additional deals with automakers to bring Alexa to more cars.

Speakers and Wearables Push

After redesigning most of its Echo speaker line last year, including the Echo Show, Echo Dot and standard Echo, the company probably isn’t planning major updates for those devices this year. Instead, it is planning a change for 2022.

Amazon is weighing in on a big wearable push beyond its recently launched Halo fitness tracker. The company has discussed several new offerings internally, including a model geared towards children and another for senior citizens, which will detect when they fall and monitor activities. Bloomberg previously reported plans to develop a wearable device for children, but development of both products is still in its infancy.

The company has explored manufacturing an Alexa-powered karaoke microphone called Jackson and plans to release the device this year. But the team working on that product has been disbanded. Amazon has also looked to add baby-monitoring features to its devices, as well as a suite of health sensors. The company has discussed using ultrasound-based sensors to track temperature, sleep and quality of snoring and breathing. And it has unearthed features that will help users deal with hearing disabilities.

It’s unclear whether those capabilities will eventually appear in a dedicated device or in existing products. One challenge is the limited capacity of the sensors tested by Amazon, putting potential additions into question.

new chips

Amazon is also discussing major changes to the base of its devices. One of its teams is working on new custom chips for future versions of the Echo and looking to better align its software across its multiple device categories.

Fully dedicated processors could help improve artificial intelligence and be a step up from technology developed with MediaTek Inc. That company supplied the chips that contain the elements for processing, which Amazon calls the AZ1.

Apple, which has produced its own core processors since 2010, launched a so-called Neural Engine component for AI tasks in 2017. Since then, Alphabet Inc.’s Google has introduced a similar chip for its Pixel phones. And chips are already a key area of ​​focus for the Amazon Web Services cloud division, which has been embedding custom processors in its server racks for years.

Another focus is getting the products to work together more smoothly. Amazon is looking to better align its Alexa and Fire TV operating systems to help integrate its Echo and TV devices.

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