Turn, turn, turn: Amazon’s new Echo Show smart screen moves with you


Amazon’s latest Alexa gadget is a screen that will turn itself towards you as you walk around, promising to open up new ways to interact with an AI-powered screen. — Photo: Amazon/dpa

It follows you around the room. No matter where you walk, the screen will stay pointed at you, like a pair of eyes in some haunted picture.

With the new Echo Show 10, Amazon has created a new concept for its smart speakers with displays, which have mostly remained unchanged for years.

Cameras, microphones, software and a motor now all work together so that no matter where you are, you’ll be able to see the screen head on - no more getting up and walking over to your smart screen to check a recipe.

Wait, so Amazon is watching me all day long in my own home now?!

Amazon has been quick to downplay the creepiness of this display and says that this machine does not see very much while following you around and that no visual data leaves the device.

With the new function also comes a changed design: Until now, the Echo Show was as kind of small wedge available in different sizes.

Now the display rotates around its axis on a cylinder-shaped base. The loudspeakers and the motor, among other things, are housed in this base, and two tweeters swivel with the display for better sound projections.

To everything (turn, turn, turn)

When you’re setting up your new smart screen, you’ll have the option of just how far the 10-inch screen should move: Just a little if the unit is placed against a wall, a little more in a corner - or in full 360° rotation.

The latter is handy if you plan on putting your smart screen on a kitchen island.

When it’s idle, the Echo Show 10 will stand still. Only when you speak to Alexa will the display turn towards you.

From then on, the screen swivels with you - regardless of whether you are getting information from Alexa, have to follow a recipe to cook, are watching a video or are on a video call.

The movement is virtually silent because Amazon has opted for a brushless motor. If you’re using it for video chat, the camera will also crop in on you (digitally) so you don’t appear too far away.

But is it watching me all the time?

Amazon says its new Echo determines your position using both microphones and the camera at the edge of the screen and that it took care in developing a system that does not to collect too much information.

The software is trained to recognise only the contours of a person, but not details. All the work for this is done exclusively on the device itself, says Nedim Fresko, who is responsible for Alexa devices at Amazon. But just in case you still sometimes feel nervous about being watched, Amazon has included a slider so you can cover the camera.

The company says the downgraded image recognition means that the Echo Show does not distinguish between individual users. “We don’t do facial recognition or anything like that, ” Fresko says.

Although Amazon is a leading developer of facial recognition software, the company clearly wants to avoid giving the impression it’s tracking you in your own home.

But the absence of identification also brings a disadvantage in a home with several people.

Say you walk away from your recipe for a minute, the screen will keep turning until it finds someone else to show the recipe to, no matter who it is.

Fresko says that finding the right time to turn was also a challenge. At the beginning of development, he says, the Echo Show was made to turn whenever you made the slightest movement. Now the device waits for a bigger visual cue.

While Amazon says it can’t watch you, this doesn’t mean someone else on your network can’t. Using the Alexa app, someone else can use the Echo Show 10 remotely watch a live stream of the room.

However, it only works as a live transmission and is not designed to make recordings. The device also doesn’t have automated security camera functions.

Where did you go?

The camera’s field of vision is divided into three zones. If you stay in the centre, the screen stays put. If you move to one of the peripheral areas, it swivels along after a short wait. If the display encounters an obstacle, the device asks whether it should restrict its movements.

Things get tricky when you use the buttons to change the volume or turn off the microphone, which are located at the top edge of the screen.

When you use them, your hand will often cover the camera - and then it can happen that you’re unintentionally playing peekaboo with the Echo Show. The software then notices that you’re no longer in its field of vision and will search for you.

Amazon has already trained the software to recognise a hand movement in front of the camera, but this doesn’t always work yet, Fresko admits.

The first of its kind - but for how long?

For all its limitations, the Echo Show opens a new chapter in the interaction between the connected home and its inhabitants: A device that uses its camera to respond to humans.

And it might not be the only one of its kind - according to the business wire Bloomberg, Apple was also working on a similar concept with an iPad tablet on a mechanical arm.

And then there has been speculation for some time about Amazon’s plans for a household robot. Until that happens, the Echo Show 10 (3rd generation) is here and available in anthracite and white for US$250 dollars (RM1031.50). – dpa

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