Amazon is hoping to take complete control of your home as the online retail giant launches its voice-controlled Echo speaker in the UK and Germany.
The speaker, with a personal assistant called Alexa, carries out commands and answers questions when talked to, and can link up with household products to change thermostats, turn lights on and off, and control most electrical devices throughout the home.
Using seven microphones, users call for Alexa to help them out. Millions of customers snapped up the product when it launched in the US recently.
It goes on sale in the UK at £149 at the end of September and Amazon hopes customers will also buy smaller Echo Dot versions (£49), which can be placed around the house and connect to the main hub.
Bosses at the company have been teaching the system to get used to the British accent and understand British mannerisms and customs.
Dave Limp, senior vice president of devices at Amazon, said: “About five years ago, we set off on a big vision – we wanted to build a computer in the cloud that we controlled with our voice.
“It started with Star Trek, where you could be anywhere on the Enterprise and talk to the computer to get an accurate and fast answer.
“Voice is the most natural of interfaces, the one we use from birth. It’s simple for humans, but it’s a very hard challenge for computers. When it’s done right, it’s delightful for customers.”
He added: “Imagine a world controlled by your voice. All you’ll need to say is ‘Alexa, turn on the lights’. It’s not just for serious smartphone aficionados."
Teaming up with various companies, the Echo can also be used to order minicabs through Uber, order a takeaway with Just Eat, and play music through Spotify.
Information from the internet can also be accessed quickly, along with newspapers, news, weather, and travel information.
The ability to control household objects – which must be connected via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi – is also seen as the major benefit and could help visually impaired people.
However, Amazon has yet to agree to any terms with the biggest technology players – Google and Apple – to let users request songs from their iTunes playlist, for example.
Whenever a user activates the system, Amazon will also record anything said to the device and store it in the cloud.
This has led to privacy campaigners voicing caution that Amazon could be collecting data on its users that could then be sold to third parties, or be hacked and lead to identity theft.
Amazon said it would comply with any local laws, which could lead to requests from law enforcement for any activity with the Echo.
But the company hopes that with people already sharing so much information online, they will be comfortable with the new technology, which can also be switched off to stop the microphones recording.
The technology is also open to allow developers to adapt the system, and so far Echo’s Alexa has more than 3,000 skills.
Simon Neville is business editor at BuzzFeed UK and is based in London.
Contact Simon Neville at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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