Amazon just casually announced a security camera drone that flies around your home. The Ring Always Home Cam is an autonomous drone that is designed to fly on preset paths indoors or when a Ring Alarm detects motion. Yes, a flying security camera.
The latest Ring device is built to be noisy on purpose – so if you’re home, you’ll hear it coming. It will cost $249 when it launches in the US in 2021. And it isn’t the only robot-like smart home tech announced by Amazon during its latest hardware showcase. The new Echo Show 10 smart display, coming to the UK for £240, swivels around on its base to face you using an almost-silent brushless motor.
In other words, remember the Alexa home robot that Amazon was rumoured to be building? Throw in the new AZ1 Neural Edge chip, fresh work on a genuinely conversational Alexa voice assistant and improvements to sound detection and Amazon has just proven that it has almost all the technological components it needs to fill our homes with moving, talking Alexa-powered… friends.
These announcements are a big step towards an Alexa bot rolling – or indeed flying – around the home, chatting to various family members or housemates. Why? Well, for starters, Amazon’s AZ1 neural processor has allowed it to experiment with new speech recognition models such as natural turn taking, in which you could ask Alexa to join a conversation and have the voice assistant respond to multiple people on multiple topics without using the wake word every time, based on audio and (unspecified) visual cues.
There’s also the ability to teach Alexa which settings refer to which modes and commands, with the assistant able to request clarification and confirm that it will remember the connection. And further enhancements to a more natural tone of voice, with tweaks to how words are stressed in a sentence and the insertion of ‘breaths’ and pauses where you’d expect, are joined by voice profiles for kids.
As for the sound detection, Alexa Guard can now detect the sound of a baby crying, a person snoring and a dog barking, on top of smoke alarms and glass breaking, and set up routines based on that information. Of course, features like natural turn taking are both very unlikely to work anywhere near as smoothly at home as they did in Amazon’s pre-recorded demos – we still occasionally struggle with “Alexa, lights on” – it’s a strong signal of where things are heading.
With a slate of more than ten new Echo, Fire TV, Eero and Ring products, though, and after more than 20 last year including glasses and earbuds, it’s clear that Amazon is willing to see what sticks. Some features, such as Alexa Care Hub, which can be set up to alert family members when, for instance, an elderly relative hasn’t interacted with an Echo that morning, live up the idea of a genuinely useful smart home.
If we do see an Alexa personal robot in the next few years it will seem like a perfectly logical extension of products like the Echo Show 10 and, in particular, the Ring Always Home Cam. That’s if people accept the slightly dystopian premise of the thing and buy and live with it in decent numbers, which is far from a guarantee. (Ring’s original name, before it was acquired by Amazon, was Bot Home Automation.) One of the only mysteries that remains in Amazon’s ever-expanding hardware range is whether the company will stick a face on anything.
Details and specs are scarce, particularly on the Ring Always Home Cam, and we should make sure not to overstate the case on the Echo Show 10. Yes, it rotates but the main use of the technology is to follow your body using computer vision – there’s no facial recognition going on here – so it can keep you in frame during video calls. We have, of course, seen this ability already on Nest Home Hub Max and Facebook Portal.
There’s a 13MP camera on the 10-inch Show 10, with a physical shutter, and support for Zoom, Chime, Alexa Calling and Skype. The Show 10 supports Netflix and has both a Zigbee Hub – genuinely handy for covering all smart home bases – and acts as a Sidewalk Bridge, which links it into Amazon’s fledgling network.
Amazon also announced a swathe of other devices, with major redesigns on Echo products as well as new Ring gear for the car, eero mesh networks and Fire TV Sticks. Here’s everything you need to know.
New Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Dot with clock
The Echo has gone spherical. Amazon says it has combined the best bits of the old Echo and Echo Plus into a single device – which makes sense. As does this round redesign, which is easier on the eye. The new £89.99 Echo supposedly sounds better, too, with a 3.0-inch woofer, dual-firing tweeters and Dolby sound processing. Like with many speakers now, it automatically analyses the acoustics of the room to fine-tunes playback. And, for the first time, Echo also comes with a built-in smart home hub, with support for Zigbee and Bluetooth Low Energy.
A similar treatment has been given to Amazon’s best-selling smart speaker, the £49.99 Echo Dot. You get the same spherical design and fabric finish as the Echo, but in a compact ball with a 1.6-inch front-firing speaker. The new £59.99 Echo Dot with clock mirrors the new Dot, but you get a simple LED display for time, temperature, timers and alarms. And now, the tap-to-snooze feature on the Dot with clock comes on Echo Dot and Echo, too. Pre-order starts today with new Echoes shipping later this year.
Echo Dot Kids Edition
Exclusive to the US for now, the Echo Dot Kids Edition takes the globular design and turns it into either a panda or tiger. A custom-built Alexa kids experience means children can ask Alexa questions, set animal sound alarms and call approved friends and family, with extra safeguards and controls for parents. You can create Alexa voice profiles for different children, too. There is also a new Alexa feature called Reading Sidekick for parents who cannot be bothered to teach their children to read. Alexa will “take turns reading with your child, providing encouragement when they are reading well and offering support when they struggle”.
Next-Generation Fire TV Stick, Fire TV Stick Lite
Amazon says its new Fire TV Stick is now 50 per cent more powerful, thanks to a 1.7GHz quad-core processor, with Dolby Atmos support to go alongside that Alexa remote. Costing £39.99, you also get faster streaming in 1080p at 60fps with HDR compatibility. The £29.99 Fire TV Stick Lite is also 50 per cent more powerful than the previous-generation Stick, comes with an Alexa remote and features HDR support. Both ship in the UK next week.
Upgrades to the Fire TV experience include a redesigned UI with a new search function. Fire TV can now host profiles for six members of a household, too, providing content recommendations, viewing history, watch lists and preferred settings for each. You can switch between profiles using your voice.
Ring Car Alarm and Car Cam
Along with announcing that end-to-end encryption is coming to video on all Ring devices, the company has two new auto security gadgets. Car Alarm ($59.99) is a wireless device that plugs into a car’s OBD-II port and alerts you in the event of bumps, break-ins, tows and more. When such an event happens, Ring Car Alarm sends an alert via the Ring app, so you can then trigger its siren if you want to. Ring Car Cam is a security camera for inside the car. When a car is parked, the $199.99 Car Cam watches for bumps and attempted break-ins.
If something suspicious happens, you get an alert to your phone so you can see what is happening in and around the vehicle. While driving, the Car Cam has an Emergency Crash Assist, which can ask for help from emergency services at the car’s location if a crash is detected. Another feature, Traffic Stop, lets drivers say, “Alexa, I’m being pulled over”, to record the interaction and save it to the cloud.
Eero Pro 6 and eero 6
The newest additions to Amazon’s mesh network offshoot, the eero Pro 6 (from $229) and eero 6 (from $129), are US-only for now too. The systems feature Wi-Fi 6 for faster speeds and coverage for more than 75 devices simultaneously, and come out later this year. With a built-in Zigbee smart home hub, this eero 6 series will connect to compatible devices without the need for a separate Zigbee hub.
Jeremy White is WIRED’s executive editor. He tweets from @jeremywired
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