For several months now, I’ve been dabbling in the Alexa ecosystem. This has been due largely to frustration with Siri and the steep pricing associated with HomeKit-compatible products. Through this endeavor, I’ve found Amazon’s voice assistant to be smarter in many ways, but as you would hope, Alexa’s Head Scientist, Rohit Prasad, thinks the platform can go much further.
At the EmTech Digital 2019 Conference, Prasad said, “The only way to make smart assistants really smart is to give it eyes and let it explore the world”. This statement certainly seems logical since a robot would be able to more easily learn about its surroundings.
An existing Alexa device that can see and move
Rumors of an Amazon-developed Alexa robot have been rumored for quite some time, making Prasad’s comments not seem to far out of the norm. While nothing from Amazon has materialized yet, we have seen products like Anki Vector come to fruition, giving us a taste of what these robots could be like.
Armed with a camera, and excavator-like tracks, Anki’s cute robot received an update a few months back that lets users communicate with with Alexa similarly to how Amazon’s Echo line-up currently operates. Even though Anki Vector technically has the hardware needed, it does not use this it to automatically learn about its surroundings, I mean, it is a toy after all.
Amazon already makes Alexa products that can see
It’s easy to forget, but Amazon has been making products that can see for quite some time now. Probably the most prominent and budget-friendly of these are its Fire HDs devices. For seven years these devices have had a front-facing cameras that can see what’s going on when activated.
Next up, the Echo Show. Much like Google Home Hub or Lenovo’s Smart Display, the headlining feature is its AI capabilities. The front of Echo Show has a camera, which is there for video features, and is not intended to gather data and learn about its surroundings.
Of all the Echo devices with a camera, Look has to be the boldest of them all. It’s meant to be placed in a closet (yikes), and help customers make fashionable decisions each day. From the get-go, Echo Look has been seen as creepy by most, and steep discounts shortly after launch seem to hint that the product has had a rough time in today’s market.
With companies like Apple taking such a strong and public stance on privacy, consumers are more alerted about the possibility of big tech companies spying on them. For this reason, it seems like the best approach for Amazon with an Alexa robot is to be entirely forthright about what types of data are collected and for what purpose.
If done in this way and I felt comfortable with Amazon’s intended behavior, I’d consider trying one in my home. That being said, the device would certainly need to be helpful around the house, which is yet to be proven possible.