Tomorrow, Amazon’s Devices team will hold what’s become an annual event in Seattle. It’s typically the biggest day of the year for AI-powered devices that work with Alexa made by Amazon, and though it’s tough to say for certain exactly what will be announced, given news leaks and the sort of announcements Amazon made in years past, we’ve got a few ideas of what might go down at Amazon headquarters. So here’s a quick rundown of what Amazon may announce at its big hardware event.
Follow VentureBeat for breaking news and analysis for the invite-only event that begins around 10 a.m. Pacific Time.
It’s been rumored for over a year that Amazon’s Lab126 is working on a home robot.
Given the fact that anonymous sources told Bloomberg Amazon intended to release the robot as early as 2019 and we’re on the verge of the holiday season, now would be the time.
To make such a device more than an Echo speaker on wheels, a home robot will need to deliver value like enact home security, do chores, receive Amazon package deliveries, or enable professional in-home services like the Amazon Key program. Imagine a home robot that can keep an eye on things when a plumber is fixing things or Amazon is delivering a couch.
The introduction of new smart speakers is how this annual event got started in the first place, so new speakers seem the most likely news on the way tomorrow.
Last year, for example, Amazon introduced its third-generation Echo Dot, still one of the best smart speakers in the world, alongside the improved 10-inch second generation Echo Show.
A speaker with subwoofer to deliver more bass and volume than current offerings is reportedly in the mix. Such a speaker would help Amazon continue to compete with higher-end speaker makers. Bose and Sonos this year have both introduced their own sound bars and speakers that allow users to interact with either Google Assistant or Alexa.
The introduction of more devices for enhancing sound from existing Echo speakers like the Echo Sub or Echo Amp seems unlikely, however.
Amazon reportedly plans to introduce a pair of earbuds Wednesday, a device that would finally give Amazon an offering to compete with Apple AirPods and Samsung Galaxy Buds.
The Alexa wearables SDK has allowed device makers to incorporate the AI assistant into earbuds, so that’s not altogether new, but the Amazon earbuds, reportedly codenamed Puget, will reportedly double as a fitness tracker.
Again, earbuds for tracking heart rate and steps are available today, but what could be interesting is if Alexa works as a sort of AI assistant workout partner. Sony and a few startups have worked on the idea of an AI assistant that talks you through workouts. With access to your workout data, the assistant could help people move toward long-term goals like good cardiovascular health, getting in shape to have a baby, or training to run a half marathon.
Just as Alexa now changes her voice when reading news reports, don’t be surprised if such a device uses a more expressive voice when acting as your workout partner.
New Alexa features
At last year’s event, Amazon showcased Alexa Follow Up, a way to interact with Alexa without the need to repeat the “Alexa” wake word, and Alexa Guard, which alerts users when a speaker hears the sound of glass breaking or a security alarm.
Don’t be surprised if among new features that get introduced is a new or enhanced way to improve privacy protections. Events like human review of Alexa voice recordings and numerous episodes with Amazon’s Ring doorbell camera have inflamed consumer privacy concerns this year. Toward this end, earlier this year Amazon began to allow users to disable human review of voice recordings and delete recordings with a voice command.
High-profile features in the works this year from Amazon’s Alexa AI team include emotion detection and Alexa Conversations, a way to weave together experiences between multiple Alexa skills so you could, for example, reduce the number of steps necessary to plan a night out to less than a dozen exchanges instead of 40. Amazon chief scientist Rohit Prasad first introduced Conversations earlier this year at Amazon’s re:MARS conference in Las Vegas.
On Monday, Amazon launched Show and Tell for Echo Show devices to identify household goods for low vision and blind people. This appears to be one of the first integrations of object detection for Amazon smart displays.
Then on Tuesday, Amazon and companies like Microsoft and Salesforce launched the Voice Interoperability Initiative to bring together multiple AI assistants on devices.
We are on the verge of the launch of Disney+, a streaming service expected to shake up the streaming video industry now dominated by players like Netflix and Amazon.
Amazon last year showcased Fire TV Recast for DVR and streaming video of local television, and so new major offerings from Fire TV or expanded options with Fire TV Recast could be on the menu for Wednesday.