Amazon launched a profusion of sensor-filled speakers, cameras, and televisions as well as services from its Eero Wi-Fi business and Ring security business on Wednesday as it doubled down on its idea of ambient intelligence. Basically, Amazon is making sure everything it releases can act as a sensor providing as much information about the environment to Alexa, its digital assistant.
The end goal is to turn the smart home into a robot that can tackle many of the tasks we don’t want to and do so in a manner that doesn’t ask too much of the consumer. But to do this Amazon needs consumers to trust it and give them reasons to buy into the ecosystem.
Just like the smart phone consolidated cameras, tape recorders, TVs, credit cards, and other devices into one gadget, Amazon is prepping its Echo speakers and Fire TVs to do the same for the smart home. The humble Echo device is already a speaker and digital assistant, glass breakage detector, smoke alarm detector, and with the latest update from Amazon and Eero it becomes a mesh Wi-Fi hub. Amazon also announced a new TV that will act as an extension of an Echo device with widgets, as well as a sensor package that provides information about people’s presence in the home and the surrounding environment.
Other devices such as the FireTV Cube or the fifth generation Echo Dot, Echo speaker, or Echo Auto also come packed with sensors and features that help them work seamlessly together using Alexa as the glue. For example, Alexa’s Hunches, a service that tracks what a consumer normally does in their home and suggests typical actions or new actions, will now use information from the car and then make suggestions for users in the car. Amazon’s David Limp gave an example of someone’s Echo Auto, realizing they were in the car and no one was at home, might suggest that an unlocked door be locked.
Amazon Echos are now fancier sensors
This is exactly what most of us want when asked about the smart home, and Amazon is quickly building it. Using its own devices as the necessary sensor nodes and Alexa as the brains behind the operations. And while Alexa lives in the cloud, much of the data gathered from these devices will be processed and kept local, with only the insights getting passed along. We’re seeing the development of an architecture for a smart home and a net of personalized computing develop.
So let’s talk about individual devices. In its Echo ecosystem, Amazon announced an improved Echo Dot ($49.99) and Echo Dot+ Clock ($59.99). The Echo Dot has been re-engineered inside to fit a larger and more capable speaker inside. The clock now has more display capabilities, turning the clock numerals into a streaming song title or weather information. It also introduced an improved Echo Studio device for $199.99 and added white as a color option.
Amazon also built a different clock called the Halo Rise, this one designed for health and wellness. It combines a light, a “no-contact sensor” that measures breathing and movement, and environmental sensors. The Halo Rise measures sleep and can share environmental data and insights such as someone getting into bed and using that to set off actions in the home. It will come with a six-month subscription to Amazon’s Halo fitness and wellness service and sells for $139.99.
Amazon’s sensor network extends to cars and TVs
Amazon also introduced a new Echo Auto for $54.99 and a few TV products. The Echo Auto can deliver Alexa’s Hunches as previously mentioned and it can also pick up your music where you left off playing it inside the home. The Fire TV Cube is $139.99 and has four IR blasters to control other AV devices, can translate HD content to 4K, supports Wi-Fi 6E, and also lets people control their television and even cable subscription with their voice.
Amazon also introduced a Fire TV QLED Omni set that starts at $799.99 and ranges from 65-inches to 75 inches in size.
This TV also includes a sensor package that tracks the environment and people’s presence, but it didn’t appear to have a camera. The TV also comes with the intelligence to turn itself on or off based on a user’s presence and habits. It also shows off widgets familiar to users of Echo Show devices. And while Amazon introduces a TV that can function almost as a large-screen Echo Show (sans touchscreen and camera), the Echo Show 15 tablet is now a TV with the addition of Fire TV capabilities.
Eero will bring features and reliability
Amazon announced two new Eero devices and a host of new functionality for the mesh Wi-Fi system. The devices include a power over Ethernet product version running Wi-Fi 6 designed for the professional installer market. Professional installers love power over Ethernet because it’s more reliable and doesn’t require an outlet. That device will cost $299.99 and be available this year. Also for the pro installer market, Eero has created a 10 Gbps power over Ethernet switch called the Eero PoE Gateway that will retail for $649.99. This device is something you might find in a rack of gear inside a high-end home.
On the software side, Amazon has created a service for installers that helps them manage clients’ networks. Amazon also created an annual security and management service for small businesses that might want to use existing Eero access points. That service will cost $299 a year. And in more service and subscription news, Amazon has combined Eero’s subscription options into one option, Eero Plus which will cost customers $9.99 per month or $99 per year. (This is going to piss off customers paying $2.99 a month for the less featured Eero security service.)
Finally, Amazon announced two really interesting features for Eero customers. Subscribers of the Eero Plus service will also get the option to dictate a secondary internet connection to default to in case of an internet outage. For many, this will likely be a cell phone. Secondly, it announced that on Oct. 20 its fourth generation Echo dot and Echo devices will become Wi-Fi mesh access points. The fifth generation Echo Dot and Echo Dot + clock devices announced Wednesday will also act as Wi-Fi hotspots.
Astro gives this vision mobility
This makes sense and pumps more functionality into the Echo devices. So a home might have multiple Echo devices in the home acting as a mesh access point, in-room-sensor, in-room security sensor, and means to access a digital assistant. This home doesn’t need a thermostat (the Echo has the room temperature), speakers, or a Wi-Fi hotspot. It may not even need a security camera. But if it does, Amazon announced new skills for Amazon’s Astro home robot.
Astro has become a roving sensor that can be taught to recognize things such as pets and open doors or windows. It can use this knowledge (which is an impressive feat of using AI to let a consumer train their robot) to notify homeowners if something is wrong. It can also be paired with other Amazon devices such as Ring’s security systems to roam to trouble spots and check them out. In fact, Ring launched such as service for small businesses on Wednesday.
We didn’t hear directly from anyone with Ring (or anything about Amazon Sidewalk) but on the home security front, Amazon is launching a new Ring Spotlight Cam Pro that will use radar for motion sensing. That camera will cost $229.99. Amazon also announced an accessory to turn an existing Blink camera into a pan and tilt camera for $29.99 and a Blink wired floodlight for $99.99.
There will be plenty of focus on the individual devices, but I expect over the next few years, we’ll see Amazon introducing anchor devices for each room of the home and maybe even for cars or offices that will provide the context clues about a person that will be necessary for Alexa to really act as a digital assistant. We might even get good wearables that put Alexa’s sensors onto our bodies. Amazon is trying with smart eyeglass frames, a wearable activity tracker, and ear buds.
These anchor devices will provide the context while Alexa acts as an ambient intelligence controlling Amazon and other devices in the cloud. It will be both exactly what we think we want and terrifying to let Amazon have that level of control over our data and over our lives.