Amazon Alexa and Echo - Ask and You Shall Get It

Few decades ago the following scenario would have just been a dream for human kind, or perhaps a scene from a sci-fi movie – On a Sunday morning you are in bed and you want to wake up to your favorite music or perhaps want to know what the weather for the day is going to be like, so you can plan your day accordingly. You just utter those words, your wishes – play my song, what is the weather like today? Then magically you hear your favorite music sifting through the air as though a little genie heard your wishes and granted your boon! The same little genie tells you the weather too. It would have all been just wishful thinking in the early 1990s. Technology has progressed so fast in the last two decades that what we thought was only a dream has become the way of life in many homes.

Two decades ago we would have gone to the computer for checking on the weather and most likely turned on the CD player to play our favorite song. Fast forward to a little more than a decade after – smart phones were introduced in the market. People bragged that the world is in the palm of your hands – type anything you want to know about and get your answers right away. With the intervention of voice activation and voice recognition, technology took another leap – all you need to do with an app like SIRI is just to use your phone to give your voice command and SIRI comes back to you with all the answers. Of course, the app needs to be installed on your phone and you need to have the phone nearby to use this voice activated app.

Amazon Echo is a giant leap in the world of highly intelligent devices that serve as digital personal assistants. This digital assistant does an amazing number of things to make our fast paced, stress laden lives easier. This device, which looks like a cylindrical device, may seem like your everyday blue tooth speaker. However, working in tandem with the voice activated digital assistant Alexa, Echo can do several tasks. This device alone can show us how the future world with artificial intelligence or AI will look like.

You can order pizza using Alexa while watching TV. You can play your favorite number as you get dressed or while fixing your hair. If you have smart home appliances Alexa can do your bidding with a simple voice command to Echo. You can stage a romantic dim light ambience for special moments without having to get up – Alexa can adjust the room dimmer light setting for you. You can turn smart home appliances on or off – for example you can turn on heater or air conditioning in your home without moving. You can turn the oven on or off and adjust refrigerator setting. You can have Alexa read your favorite book. Imagine you are alone and trying to whip up some fancy dish for dinner with friends in the evening. Echo and Alexa can give you company as you try your culinary skills. Alexa can suggest the right kind of wine to pair up with your dish when you ask her to use the skill like Wine Buddy via Alexa app. You can set up multiple timers and Alexa will remind you once each timer is up. You can ask for help with unit conversion such as how many pounds is one kilogram and so on. Or perhaps you need to know how many calories a cup of brown rice could possibly have. Alexa in tandem with echo could be excellent kitchen buddies and answer your queries.

How do Echo and Alexa work?

Echo is the device that physically sits in your room. It looks like a cylindrical speaker which is omni-directional, and it can produce audio across 360 degrees to fill a room. It has seven microphone arrays built in to it and uses a cool technology called beam forming technology. Beam forming technology is one of the latest developments in the signal processing arena and is very useful to capture the useful and relevant audio information (such as your voice command to Echo from anywhere in the room) while effectively cancelling or filtering out noise. This technology being used for Echo is very vital here because your voice command that is sent from across the room is the one that is recorded and is used to fulfill the tasks you assign to Alexa. Any unwanted signal interference or unnecessary noise that gets across to echo may result in incorrect outcome.

The Echo device itself is about a little more than 9 inches in height and a little more than three inches in diameter. For all the purposes it serves, the device occupies a very small space. There are buttons on top of the device that turn on or off the microphone and provide control options. There is a status indicator for Wi-Fi connection – this is important because without this your voice command cannot reach the Amazon cloud. There is a volume control ring which you can adjust or speaker volume. The key component is the microphone array which records your voice command and sends it across to the cloud for Alexa. There is a ring of light that provides status update on Echo such as if it is streaming audio or if the microphone is turned on or not. The two powerful speakers, the woofer and the tweeter, in combination with speaker holes enable smooth flow of sounds from Echo back to the listener ears. The power supply for the system comes from a power adapter.

What is Alexa

Alexa is a cloud based software service. Data centers with powerful systems located remotely work on the voice commands you send to Echo and provide the services requested. When you speak your magic word to wake Echo up it gets ready to follow your orders. It listens to your voice command through its powerful beam forming technology, sends it via the internet to Alexa voice service. Alexa, the digital assistant interprets your voice command and send it to the appropriate web service to fulfill your command. Of course, you need to make sure the WiFi is turned on to ensure Echo works and connects to Alexa. As Alexa’s operating system is cloud based, third party developers can develop several voice activated apps to increase the number of tasks that this digital assistant can do for you.

Amazon Echo Dot is another cool device that is smaller than Echo and less expensive too. Given this, the speakers are less powerful as well, and you might benefit in connecting it to more powerful external speakers. You can place several Echo dots throughout the house and have multiple tasks done.

It is amazing to think that just sitting in your chair, you can either turn the sprinklers on to get your flower garden to bloom or order flowers from a florist. You can ask Alexa to create a grocery list and ask her to shop from Amazon too. You can create a to-do list and, check your calendar and set alarms. All these are done with a simple voice command to the amazing voice activated digital assistant – Alexa.

So, ask away and Alexa will be happy to do your bidding!