Amazon makes it 'Echo-system' more irresistible

Gina Acosta
Executive Editor
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The Echo Auto allows a consumer to buy groceries, find the nearest Starbucks or listen to audiobooks.

Amazon is making its smart speaker ecosystem even more essential to the American consumer by debuting a slew of new hardware and software products designed to make its voice assistant Alexa ubiquitous.

"Alexa, can you order some chicken breasts and broccoli," soon won't be relegated to the home or the office, now that Amazon has launched the Echo Auto. The device goes on the dashboard of a car and offers Alexa capabilities during driving. It talks to the Alexa service through a smartphone, which it connects to using Bluetooth. It will cost $50 when it launches later this year.

Some of the other products Amazon launched in an Apple-style event at its Seattle headquarters Thursday included an Amazon Basics microwave that works with Alexa and will sell for the low price of $60.

The move to launch and update its voice-enabled products comes as Amazon continues its mission to put its Alexa voice assistant everywhere it possibly can. After Thursday's launch event, which included an Alexa-enabled clock, the retailer is surely aiming for retail domination through Alexa.

Amazon also launched a new Echo Dot and an Echo Plus speaker with "Smart Home Local Voice Control," which means it runs certain commands for smart-home devices locally. "So when the Internet goes down, you can still say, 'Alexa, turn on the lights,' or 'Alexa, turn on the plug," Amazon said. It costs $150.

“Over the past year we’ve made incredible scientific advances in Alexa’s Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). We have applied deep neural networks to advance Alexa's ability to detect challenging acoustic phenomena such as whispered speech and anomalous events like glass breaking; made breakthroughs in combining transfer learning and deep learning to teach Alexa new languages and capabilities faster; improved contextual understanding and added memory to help customers discover skills and ask follow-up questions more naturally; and used active learning and unsupervised learning to improve foundational wake word detection, speech recognition, and natural language understanding,” said Rohit Prasad, Vice President and Head Scientist, Amazon Alexa. “We’ve only scratched the surface of A.I.-powered inventions and we’ll continue to invent ways to make Alexa more useful for our customers.”

Alongside the new lineup of Echo devices, Amazon introduced new Alexa capabilities including entertainment features like left-right stereo pairing, TIDAL, and Amazon Music New Release Notifications; productivity features like email management, step-by-step cooking, and location-based Routines; smart home and home monitoring features like Alexa Guard, Hunches, and Local Voice Control; and FreeTime on Alexa features like kid-focused Routines, podcasts, new skills, and more.

“The Alexa service is always getting smarter, whether you’re using the Echo you bought three years ago or an Echo Show you buy tomorrow. We have thousands of engineers and scientists inventing on behalf of customers, and today we’re excited to introduce even more features to help make customers’ lives simpler, safer, and more convenient,” said Tom Taylor, Senior Vice President, Amazon Alexa. “Soon customers will be able to manage their email, easily secure their home, watch the shows they love on Echo Show, and make their daily routines more productive—all just by asking Alexa.”