Category: Home / building automation and security

The Internet fridge–still considered very mythical

Samsung Family Hub Internet fridge lifestyle image courtesy of Samsung USASince the “dot-com” era of the late 1990s, there has been a very mythical home appliance often cited by Internet visionaries. This is the Internet fridge or “smart fridge” which is a regular household refrigerator equipped with Internet connectivity and a large built-in display.

It is expected to provide access to a wide range of online services like online shopping, online photo albums, email and messaging, and online music services. It is also expected to keep track of the food and drink that is held therein using a simple inventory-management program.

In the context of the smart home, the Internet fridge is expected to be a “dashboard” or “control surface” for lighting. heating and other equipment associated with the home. Often the vision for the smart home is to have as many control surfaces around the home to manage what happens therein like setting up HVAC operating temperatures or turning lighting on and off according to particular usage scenarios.

The Internet-fridge idea is based on the concept of the typical household refrigerator’s door ending up as the noticeboard for that household thanks to its role as the main food-storage location for the people and pets therein. There is the thriving trade in “fridge magnets” that people use to decorate their fridge’s door. Let’s not forget that some households have even put a radio or TV on top of the fridge that they can flick on for information or entertainment in the kitchen.

Who is making these appliances?

At the moment, Samsung and LG are making Internet-fridges in production quantities available to the market. These are typically positioned as American-style wide-format fridges that also have the integrated ice makers. Samsung offers theirs in a few different compartment configurations with the cheapest being a two-door fridge-freezer arrangement.

But most of the other white-goods manufacturers exhibit examples of these Internet fridges at trade fairs primarily as proof-of-concept or prototype designs. These are typically based on common fridge-freezer designs already on the market but are modified with Internet functionality.

But the Internet-fridge idea has not become popular with most people. Why is that so?

One issue is to do with the computer hardware associated with the Internet-fridge concept. These setups typically have a separate computer from the microcontroller circuitry associated with keeping the appliance’s compartments to the appropriate temperature or managing ice-maker or chilled-water functionality. But this computer hardware is effectively integrated in the appliance in a manner that makes it hard for users to upgrade to newer expectations.

This means that if this computer fails or gets to a point where it is “end-of-life”, the user loses the full functionality associated with the Internet fridge. The same thing can happen if, for example, the touchscreen that the user uses to interact with the Internet fridge’s online abilities fails to work.

It is underscored by the fact that a household refrigerator is in that class of appliance that is expected to serve a household for many years. As I have seen, many households will buy a new fridge when an old fridge fails to operate properly or when they are making a new house and want to upgrade their fridge. This is even though a lot of consumer IT equipment isn’t expected to provide that length of service thanks to rapidly-advancing technology.

Another factor is the software and online services associated with the Internet fridge. Typically this is engineered by the appliance manufacturer to provide the “branded experience” that the manufacturer wants to convey to the consumer.

The questions associated with the software focus around the appliance manufacturer’s continual attention to software security and quality over the lifetime of the Internet fridge. It includes protecting the end-users’ privacy as they use this appliance along with allowing the appliance to do its job properly and in a food-safe manner.

I would also add to this the competitive-trade issues associated with online services. Here, appliance manufacturers could easily create exclusive agreements with various online-service providers and not allow competing service providers access to the Internet-fridge platform. It can extend to online-shopping platforms that tie in with the inventory-management software associated with the Internet fridge platform.

Such exclusive partnerships with online service providers or online-shopping platforms will make it difficult for customers to use their preferred online-service or online-shopping platform with an Internet fridge. In the case of online-shopping platforms, it will become difficult for smaller, specialist or independent food suppliers to participate in these platforms especially if the platform has “tied up” a significant customer base. That can be achieved with excessive fees and charges or onerous terms and conditions for the merchants.

Let’s not forget that the Internet fridge ended up, like the Aeron-style office chair, being seen as a status symbol associated with the dot-com bubble.

For that matter, householders are using alternative approaches to the same goal touted by the Internet-fridge suppliers. Here, they are using smart speakers like Amazon Echo or Google Home or, if they are after a display-driven solution, they will use a smart display like Amazon Echo Show or a Google-Assistant-based smart display. Let’s not forget that the iPad or Android-based tablets are offering the idea of a ubiquitous control / display surface for the smart home.

What can be done to legitimise the Internet fridge as far as consumers are concerned?

As for the hardware, I would recommend a long-tailed approach which is focused on modularity. Here, newer computer, connection or display modules can be installed in the same fridge by the user or a professional as part of an upgrade approach. It could allow the appliance manufacturer to offer a cheaper range of standard-height household fridges that can be converted to Internet fridges at a later time when the user purchases and installs an “Internet display kit” on their appliance.

Furthermore, if the hardware or connectivity is of a standard form, it could allow a third-party vendor to offer this functionality on a white-label basis to appliance manufacturers who don’t necessarily want to reinvent the wheel. It can also apply to those appliance manufacturers who offer products in a “white-label” form under a distributor’s or retailer’s brand.

One approach I would recommend for software is access to ubiquitous third-party software platforms with a lively developer ecosystem like Android. The platforms should have an app store that maintains software quality. This means that users can install the software associated with what they need for their Internet fridge.

The problem that manufacturers may see with this approach is providing a user interface for controlling how the fridge operates such as setting the fridge, freezer or other compartment temperatures. Here, this could be facilitated by an app that runs as part of the Internet fridge’s display ecosystem. It may also be preferred to provide basic and essential control for the Internet fridge’s refrigeration and allied functionality independent of the Internet display functionality and create a secure firewall between those functions to assure food safety and energy efficiency.

Using open-frame approaches for building Internet-display functionality in to fridges may help with reducing the cost of this kind of functionality in these products. It could also encourage ubiquity in a low-risk form as well as encouraging innovation in this product class.

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ARD takes interactive audio content to Germany

Articles (German language / Deutsche Sprache)

Amazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

ARD is now on to interactive audio drama for Amazon Echo and similar smart speakers — this time based on Tatort

INFODIGITAL – Der Tatort wird interaktiv: ‘Höllenfeuer’ (infosat.de)

Tatort Interaktiv (ARD Gruppe)

Previous coverage on interactive audio content

BBC introduces interactive radio drama using Alexa

My Comments

The BBC have used their world-famous radio-play craft to create an interactive audio drama that works hand-in-glove with the Amazon Alexa platform. The listeners interact with their Amazon Echo or Alexa-based smart speaker to direct how the story goes.  Here it intermingled the radio-play expertise with those “Choose Your Own Adventure” storybooks or the text-based adventure computer games.

Now the German ARD group of public-service broadcasters have taken on a similar effort but have carried their effort on the back of the “Tatort” crime-drama series that is a mainstay of German-language TV content. The effort would be very similar to the early Police Quest series of crime-themed graphic adventure games that Sierra launched through the late 1980s and early 1990s; or the LA Noire video adventure game released in 2011 and set in late-1940s post-WWII Los Angeles.

They have taken this further by making it work on both the Alexa and Google Assistant platforms including their mobile-platform assistant apps as well as the smart speakers. In addition to this, ARD even provides a Web-based interactive audio adventure so you don’t have to use Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant for this kind of game.

What is peculiar about Tatort is that this German-language crime series has different investigation teams that are each based in different cities or districts within Germany, Austria or Switzerland who solve the cases within that area. Each episode that comes on in the German-speaking countries through their public-service broadcaster on Sunday night 8:15pm local time will appear with a case from a different city.

This interactive audio play, called Höllenfeuer in German or Hellfire in English, has been prepared primarily by Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR) with the help of WestDeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) and uses the Munich-based Tatort crime-investigation team. The player controls the character of Kommissarin Mavi Fuchs who works alongside Kriminalkommissar Kalli Hammermann to solve the case. You have to use voice commands to direct these protagonists in the interactive audio play which can be replayed if you are trying to “get the grip of it” further.

But what is happening is that some broadcasters are discovering the idea of mixing radio plays with interactive elements to provide the audio equivalent of classic adventure computer games. Then they are linking these products with voice-driven assistant platforms. The approach ARD have taken with Tatort is to use this new form of delivering audio content effectively to take their existing intellectual property, especially a tentpole TV show, further.

It can be seen as a way to take am existing content franchise further and implement it in a new form, especially an interactive audio play. This is more so as the smart speakers and other voice-driven-assistant devices become more popular.

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How can you use Amazon Alexa to measure room temparature

Article

Amazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

These new Echo speakers can work as temperature sensors for a room

How to Get an Amazon Echo to Tell You a Room’s Temperature (lifehacker.com)

My Comments

Newer Amazon Echo smart speakers are being equipped with room-temperature sensors that contribute this data to the Alexa smart-home subsystem.

Here, the devices you need to use in the rooms you want to measure the temperature of are:

  • Amazon Echo 4th Generation (spherical) or newer generation
  • Amazon Echo Plus 2nd Generation (cylindrical) or newer generation

To confirm your Amazon Echo device’s room-temperature measuring ability, you need to open the Alexa app or http://alexa.amazon.com and log in to your Amazon account. Then you go to “Devices”, then “Echo & Alexa” and select the name of your Echo smart speaker that you want to verify. Here, you need to look for the “Temperature Sensor” field which will come up with the current room temperature if your Echo speaker is suitably equipped.

Each Echo device that you want to use as a temperature sensor has to be given a unique room name. Then to ask Alexa for the current room temperature of a particular room, you say “Alexa, what is the temperature for <desired room name>?”

There are limitations with this setup at the moment. You can’t ask for a house-wide indoor temperature or the indoor temperature of a room cluster like upstairs. This is because Amazon hasn’t worked out what way whether to assess the room temperature of an area covered by multiple devices as an average or what other way. Nor have they added the necessary logic to do so.

But you can create a temperature-based routine that works with this temperature for the Alexa smart home. For example, you may have a fan or heater come on if the room reaches or falls below a minimum temperature. This may be a situation where you don’t have an occasionally-used room that isn’t part of your central HVAC setup and you use portable heating or cooling equipment for this purpose.

Or you want to be alerted if a room of yours falls below a critical temperature level so you can undertake procedures to mitigate frost or pipes freezing up.

What Amazon will need to do for Alexa in relation to this is to make this more useful is to allow averaging of multiple temperature sensors so you can measure areas larger than a room. As well, it could cater to environments where you have multiple suitably-equipped Echo speakers in one room like in a large kitchen / dining area for example.

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Gainsborough TriLock appears now as a smart lock

Articles –From the horse’s mouth

Gainsborough Hardware

FreeStyle TriLock smart lock

Product Page

Product Microsite

Press Release from Allegion (parent company of Gainsborough Hardware)

Video – Click or tap to play on YouTube

My Comments

During the 1990s, a type of residential door lock had come on the market which conveys the look of a mortice lock but has the simple quick installation approach associated with the “bore-through” cylindrical or tubular form factors.

One of these entrance locksets that came about was the Gainsborough TriLock entrance set. This offered double-cylinder “deadlock” security demanded in the Australian market but had the ability for users to just lock the outside handle from the inside by pressing a button.

But Gainsborough Hardware have revised this lockset to become a smart lock. This entrance set, known as the FreeStyle TriLock, has a concealable keypad for users to enter their access codes when they want to enter, no matter whether it is locked from both sides or just the outside. There is an intent behind this lock’s design to allow a householder to replace a TriLock lockset that was on their front door without needing to drill new holes or refinish the door.

As well, it used Bluetooth connectivity with manufacturer-supplied smartphone apps so you can control the lock from your smartphone, including being notified of someone arriving at your home and letting themselves in. Of course, the FreeStyle TriLock allows you to use the traditional metal key to unlock the door, with this existing as a failsafe measure as well as for those of us still comfortable with the traditional key.

This unit can support up to 20 users and has the ability to schedule individual users’ access to your premises. The optional Gainsborough Bluetooth-Wi-Fi network bridge paves the way for remote management of this lockset, something that would pleas holiday-home or short-let premises owners.

There will be the issue of whether this smart lock will “tie in” with other smart-home systems like Amazon Alexa / Google Assistant (Home), Samsung SmartThings and similar platforms. This will be more so as we expect more out of these smart locks beyond letting ourselves and others in to our premises.

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A Sharp Alexa-enabled microwave could be about task-driven cooking

Article

Sharp Smart Countertop Microwave Oven press picture courtesy of Sharp USA

Sharp’s first smart countertop microwave oven features Wi-Fi connectivity and certified Works with Alexa compatibility for hands-free operation using voice commands.

Sharp’s New Alexa-Powered Microwave Is Even More Confusing Than Amazon’s | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Sharp USA

Sharp Launches its First Smart Countertop Microwave Ovens (Press Release)

My Comments

Most of us who use a microwave oven tend to specify cooking times and power intensities for each cooking job. This is even though most of today’s microwave ovens use job-specific cooking functions that are available to us. But some of us may decide to use a “popcorn” cooking function to cook most microwave popcorn.

These functions can confuse most of us due to different approaches to invoking them that exist between different makes and models of microwave oven.  As well, other differences that will crop up include how long these tasks are expected to take. It is also analagous to working from any recipes that are part of your microwave oven’s documentation, because these may not work out correctly if you end up using a different appliance.

Here, this issue will be considered important as more of us place value on the microwave as a cooking option for something like, perhaps, those green vegetables. It can also bamboozle anyone who uses traditional cooking techniques like the conventional oven but finds themselves in a situation where they have to primarily rely on the microwave oven for cooking needs like when they stay in a serviced apartment or AirBnB.

Amazon had released to the US market the AmazonBasics microwave that works with their Alexa voice-assistant ecosystem. But this is seen as an elementary appliance, answering most common cooking tasks. Sharp has now come to the fore with two of their microwaves that are released to the US market.

Here, the difference is to use Alexa as a gateway to the advanced cooking tasks that these microwaves offer. The press release talked of us saying to an Amazon Echo device “Alexa, defrost 2 pounds of meat” and the microwave will be set up to thaw out two pounds of frozen meat. The larger model of the two will have the ability for you to ask Alexa to set the microwave up for something like cooking broccoli or other veggies.

I see this as being about using voice assistant platforms to open up a common user interface for the advanced microwave-cooking tasks that your microwave would offer. But for this to work effectively, the user needs to know what the expected cooking time would be for the task and when they need to intervene during the cooking cycle.

As well, more of the voice assistant platforms need to come on board for this approach to advanced microwave cookery. Let’s not forget that the display-based voice assistants can even come in to their own in this use case such as to list ingredients and preparation steps for what you intend to cook.

Here, the voice assistants will become a way to lead users to use the microwave beyond reheating food, melting butter and chocolate or cooking microwave popcorn/

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Apple, Google and Amazon create home theatre setups around their platforms




Apple Amazon Google (coming soon)
Set-top device Apple TV (tvOS 11 or newer) Fire TV Stick
Fire TV Cube (2nd Generation or newer)
Chromecast with Google TV
Audio Devices HomePod or
AirPlay-compliant audio devices
Echo (2nd Generation), Echo Dot (3rd Generation) or newer Echo smart speaker devices Nest Audio smart speakers
Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

The Apple TV set-top box – part of a HomePod / AirPlay enhanced audio setup for online video content

Apple, Amazon and Google have or are establishing audio-video platforms based around their smart speaker and set-top devices. This is in order to allow you to stream the audio content from video you are watching through their companion audio devices.

The idea with these setups is to “gang” the platform-based set-top box and the speakers together to provide improved TV sound for online services like Netflix. Some like Amazon describe this approach as home theatre but what happens is that if you have a pair of like speakers ganged with the set-top device, you have stereo sound with increased separation at least. It is based around these companies building it to their platforms the ability for users to have two like speakers in one room set up as a stereo pair for that same goal. Amazon’s setup also allows you to use their Echo Sub subwoofer module to improve the bass response of their setup.

Amazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

These new Amazon Echo speakers can work as part of an enhanced-audio setup for the Amazon Fire TV set-top platform

It is in addition to being able to stream the sound from an online video source you are watching using these set-top devices to a smart speaker of the same platform for remote listening.

The current limitation with these setups is that they only work with online sources provided by the set-top device that is the hub of the setup. This is because neither of these devices support HDMI-ARC functionality in any way, which allows sound from the TV’s own tuner or video peripherals connected to the TV to be played via a compliant audio device.

These companies who are part of the Silicon Valley establishment see the fashionable way to watch TV content is to use online video-on-demand services facilitated by their own set-top devices. But some user classes would benefit from HDMI-ARC support in many ways.

For example, the TV’s own tuner is still relevant in UK, Europe, Oceania and some other countries due to these areas still placing value on free-to-air broadcast TV. This is centred around the ingrained experience of switching between channels using the TV’s own remote control with the attendant quick response when you change channels. It is also becoming relevant to North America as cord-cutting picks up steam amongst young people and they look towards the TV’s own tuner alongside an indoor antenna to pick up local TV services for current news or local sport.

Google to have Chromecast with Google TV work with their Nest Audio speakers at least

As well, some users maintain the use of other video-peripheral devices with their TVs. This will apply to people who play games on their TV using a computer or games console, watch content on packaged media like DVDs, use PVR devices to record TV content or subscribe to traditional pay TV that uses a set-top box.

It will be interesting to see whether this operating concept regarding set-top devices and smart speakers that is driven by Apple, Google and Amazon will be developed further. Here this could exist in the form of set-top devices and platforms that are engineered further for things like HDMI-ARC or surround sound.

There will also be the question about whether these setups will ever displace soundbars or fully-fledged home-theatre setups for improved TV sound. On the other hand, they could be placed as a platform-driven entry-level approach for this same goal.

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Google Nest thermostats to have HVAC fault notification

Article

Nest Learning Thermostat courtesy of Nest Labs

These Google Nest thermostats will be able to let you know if the heating or cooling is about to break down

Nest thermostats in the US and Canada can now monitor your HVAC system | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Behind the scenes with the new Nest Thermostat (Blog Post)

HVAC Monitoring from Google Nest (Support Article)

My Comments

Google has added a notification function to their range of Nest smart room thermostats to let you know if the heating or air-conditioning is failing.

This has been a side project of theirs as part of the main Nest Smart Thermostat effort but is now finished. It will be available not just to the latest Nest thermostats but also for older models installed in the US and parts of Canada. The functionality will only work with forced-air systems that we in Australia often refer to as “ducted” systems, most likely because they are the most common type of residential heating / cooling setup in the US.

The functionality detects anomalies in how quickly the home heats up or cools down to the temperature the thermostat is set at. For example, it will alert you if it is becoming colder or taking too long to heat up while the heating is actually on; or becoming warmer or taking too long to cool down when the air conditioning is actually on. This will usually highlight a failing air-distribution fan or the burner in a heating system not staying alight while needed.

As well, it monitors the HVAC system’s control circuitry to identify abnormal shutdown activity or whether it is actually on and working as intended. Here, it observes conditions where the gas-fired heating may intermittently fail to light up or stay alight for the duration of the heating cycle or the air-conditioning fails to start cooling or runs longer than expected,

You receive the reports via e-mail or the Google Home App or a “heads-up” alert can be indicated on the thremostat itself. In most cases, you will have to call out your HVAC technician to rectify the problem. The “early alerts” functionality can be of use if you have your HVAC technician service your system regularly so it is working reliably and safely for the seasons that matter.

At the moment, Google encourages the use of “Nest Pro” technicians who partner with them to supply and install the thermostats or the “Handy” tradespeople platform who partners with Google. This allows for you to book them to attend to your system at the times that suit you through these platforms.

Thanks to the use of standard heating/ventilation/air-conditioning wiring setups that the Google Nest thermostats use to interface with the heating and air-conditioning, there is no need for this kind of system-health monitoring to be dependent on the use of a particular brand, model or series of HVAC system. This factors in the reality that “durable” products like these systems are expected to last many years and there is the requirement to allow newer thermostats like these to work with the older systems that are still in service.

Here, what I am pleased about is the idea of Google allowing a smart thermostat to be able to alert you to your heating or cooling system being at risk of underperforming or failing to make it through the seasons that matter. Hopefully they will have this kind of functionality for other types of heating or cooling setup or available in other markets. I also see this as a direction for smart thermostats from other manufacturers to alert you to the state of your HVAC setup.

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Sonos speakers to work with GE home appliances

Article

GE fridge and stove press image courtesy of GE Appliances

Network-capable GE appliances will be able to interlink with the Sonos multiroom audio platform for audio notification purposes

Sonos’ Speakers Can Now Work With General Electric’s Appliances | UberGizmo

GE teams with Sonos to let your smart appliances talk back | SlashGear

From the horse’s mouth

GE Appliances

GE APPLIANCES BRINGS SMART HOME NOTIFICATIONS TO SONOS SPEAKERS TO DELIVER AN INTEGRATED SMART HOME EXPERIENCE (Press Release)

My Comments

Two companies have been able to build a smart-home partnership with their products and platforms without needing the blessing of Amazon, Apple or Google.

Here, Sonos who have a multiroom audio platform for their speakers and for the IKEA Symfonisk speaker range, has partnered with GE Appliances to provide some sort of smart-appliance functionality.

This will initially work appliances that are part of the GE Appliances SmartHQ building-supplied appliance platform but will work across all GE appliances that can connect to your home network. At the moment it may apply to GE-branded appliances available within North America or based on North American designs but adapted for local conditions. That is with fridges with ice-makers capable of turning large “whiskey-friendly” ice blocks, or ovens capable of roasting a large Thanksgiving-size turkey.

The functionality that will appear is to use the Sonos speakers for audio-notification purposes such as alerting users that, for example, the washing machine, clothes dryer or dishwasher has completed its cycle or the oven that you have set to preheat is up to temperature. It understands the nature of most “white goods” other than refrigeration where they are used to complete a process like washing clothes or dishes.

The classic example that most households face is a washing machine (and perhaps a clothes dryer) being used to process a large multiple-load run of laundry. Here the householder will want to know when the current cycle is finished so they can have the next load going with a minimum of delay.

What is being conceived here is that a multiroom audio platform can tie in with appliances without the need for either of these devices to work with a smart-speaker platform. Rather it is about the consumer-AV platform serving as a sentinel role for the appliances or fulfilling some other role in relation to them.

For these setups to work effectively, the industry needs to work towards using platforms like Open Connectivity Foundation and implement a device-class-level approach to integrating devices within the smart home. It then avoids certain vendors, usually Silicon Valley heavyweights, becoming gatekeepers when it comes to having devices work with each other in the smart-home context.

It then avoids the need for device vendors to strike deals with each other in order and implement particular software hooks to have any sense of interoperability within the smart home.

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Amazon’s next generation of Echo devices to use edge computing

ArticlesAmazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

New Amazon Echo devices

Everything Amazon announced at its September event | Mashable

Amazon hardware event 2020: Everything the company announced today | Android Authority

Use of edge computing in new Echo devices

Amazon’s Alexa gets a new brain on Echo, becomes smarter via AI and aims for ambience | ZDNet

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon

Introducing the All-New Echo Family—Reimagined, Inside and Out (Press Release)

New Echo (Product Page with ordering opportunity)

New Echo Dot (Product Page with ordering opportunity)

New Echo Show 10 (Product Page with ordering opportunity)

My Comments

Amazon are premiering a new lineup of Echo smart-speaker and smart-display devices that work on the Alexa voice-driven home assistant platform.

These devices convey a lot of the aesthetics one would have seen in science-fiction material or “future living” material written from the 1950s to the 1970s. It is augmented by an indoor camera drone device that Amazon released around the same time.

As well, all of these devices have the spherical look that conveys that retro-futuristic industrial-design style that was put forward from the 1950s to the early 1970s like with the Hoover Constellation vacuum cleaner of the era or the Grundig Audiorama speakers that were initially designed in the 1970s thanks to the Space Race. You might as well even ask Alexa to pull up and play space-age bachelor-pad music from Spotify or Amazon Music through these speakers.

It is even augmented further with the base of the Echo and Echo Dot lighting up as a pin-stripe to indicate the device’s current status. This industrial design also permits the implementation of a 360-degree sound approach that can impress you a lot. It also is a smart-home hub that works with Zigbee, Bluetooth Low Energy and Amazon Sidewalk devices so you don’t need to use a separate hub for them.

Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition (Tiger and Panda) press image courtesy of Amazon

Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition that is available either as a panda or tiger – for the young or young at heart

The small Echo Dot comes in two different variants where one of these has a clock on the front while the other doesn’t. It also comes also as a “Kids’ Edition” with an option of a panda face or a cat face. It is offered as part of Amazon’s Alexa Kids program which provides a child-optimised package of features for this voice assistant. But I also wonder whether this can be ran as a regular Echo Dot device, which may appeal to those adults who are young at heart and want that mischievous look these devices have.

The Echo Show 10 smart display uses a microphone array and automatic panning to face the user. This is driven by machine vision driven by the camera and microphone array. But the camera has a shutter for your privacy. Of course you can use this device as a videophone thanks to the Alexa platform’s support for Amazon’s calling platforms, Zoom and Skype.

Amazon Echo Show 10 press image courtesy of Amazon

Amazon Echo Show 10 that can swivel towards you

What makes this generation of Echo devices more interesting is that they implement an edge-computing approach to improve sound quality and intelligibility when it comes to interacting with Alexa. This is even opening up ideas like natural-flow conversations with Alexa or allowing Alexa to participate as an extra person in a multiple-person conversation. It is furthering Amazon’s direction towards implementing ambient computing on their Alexa voice-driven assistant platform.

But Google was the first to implement this concept in a smart-speaker / voice-driven assistant use case. Here, they used it in the Nest Mini smart speaker to improve on the Google Assistant’s intelligibility of your commands.

Amazon Echo Show 10 in videocall - press image courtesy of Amazon

Oh yeah, you can make and take Zoom or Skype videocalls on an Amazon Echo Show 10

I do see this as a major direction for smart-speaker and voice-driven-assistant technology due to improving responsiveness and user interaction with these devices. It may even be about keeping premises-local configurations and customisations on the device’s memory rather than on the cloud, which may improve a lot of use factors. For example, it may be about user privacy due to minimal user data held on remote servers. Or it could be about an optimised highly-responsive setup for the home-automation setups we build around these devices.

What needs to be looked at is a way to implement localised peer-to-peer sharing of data between smart speaker devices that are on the same platform and are installed within the same home network. This can allow users to have the same quality of experience no matter which device they use within the home.

There also has to be support for localised processing of data by devices with the edge-computing smarts for those devices that don’t have that kind of operation. This would be important if you bring in a newer device with this functionality and effectively “push down” the existing device to a secondary usage scenario. In this use case, having another device with the edge computing smarts on your home network and bound to your voice-driven-assistant platform account could assure the same kind of smooth user experience as using the new device directly.

These Amazon Echo devices are showing a new direction for voice-driven home assistant devices to allow for improved intelligibility and smoother operation.

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Amazon Alexa to support voice-activated printing

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Amazon has improved on the way you can order documents to be printed via the Echo or Alexa-compatible device

Amazon launches Alexa Print, a way to print lists, recipes, games and educational content using your voice | TechCrunch

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon Alexa

Introducing: Alexa Print (Product Page)

What Can I Print (Product Page with Key phrases)

My Comments

Initially, Amazon partnered with HP to offer voice-activated document printing. That is where you could ask Alexa to print out colouring pages, sudoku puzzles, ruled paper and the like. But this tied HP’s ePrint documents-on-demand ecosystem to the Amazon Alexa voice-driven home assistant platform and limited this feature to HP ePrint-capable network printers. Some other manufacturers then bound their online printing functionality to Amazon Alexa so as to provide some form of voice-driven printing functionality.

Brother DCP-J562DW multifunction printer positioning image

.. even through printers like this Brother DCP-J562DW multi-function printer

Now Amazon evolved this feature to work with any network printer that supports IPP-based driver-free printing. That is usually a machine that supports Apple AirPrint or the Mopria driver-free printing protocols, which encompasses most of the printers made over the last five years. Here, the documents would be held on or constructed by Amazon’s servers rather than on HP’s servers.

To get going, you have to say “Alexa, discover my printer” to get started. This would have your Amazon Echo or similar Alexa-capable device discover any network printer on the same logical network as itself. On the other hand, you could use the Alexa app to discover the printer. This would require you to tap the “+” icon then select “Add Device”, then choose “Printer” as the device class to add. It will list any compatible printers on your home network so you can add them.

The Alexa app gives you fine-grained control so you can rename printers like the “Upstairs printer” or “Kitchen printer”; or allow you to delete or disable discovery of specific machines.

Amazon has, at the moment, partnered with particular publishers to offer printable items and has set up some basic printable items like ruled paper, arithmetic worksheets and the like to get you going. There is the ability to turn out crosswords including their answers along with recipes, which may be a rough-shot.

HP OfficeJet 6700 Premium business inkjet multifunction printer

.. or this HP OfficeJet 6700 desktop multifunction printer

It also ties in with the ability for you to use Alexa to buy first-party (genuine) ink or toner for your printer through their online storefront. Here, it will know which cartridges fit your machine, but the question is whether there will be the ability for you to specify standard-yield or high-yield consumables. That is because some manufacturers like HP and Brother offer their consumables in differing yield levels which may suit your needs or budget better.

At the moment, the number of printable resources will be limited until Amazon encourages Alexa Skills developers to build out Skills for this platform that support printing. Here, it could he things like asking for a rail timetable to be printed out or Amazon could even exploit Alexa Print to facilitate transactional printing like turning out tickets and boarding passes.

It will be interesting to see whether Google or Apple will bind the driver-free printing platforms that they own or partner with and their voice-driven assistant platforms to allow this kind of printing using them.

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