In what was positioned almost like a very high end commercial, Dave Limp talks about solving problems during times of uncertainty during Amazon’s new product and services announcements today. Apparently while in these times of uncertainty, Amazon has been building and inventing, well everything. Devices fading into the background, security and privacy, AI, robots (yes robots), health, living in place and so much more were talked about in what I think was probably one of the best online presentations I’ve ever seen. All these things are the things integrators like myself have dreamed of seeing, albeit not from our typical industry partners. The only thing missing from this presentation was Captain Kirk (William Shatner) himself talking about Amazon technology, since he will be the oldest person to go to space on Amazon’s same day delivery rocket.
This whole show started off with an ear-catching term from the beginning. Limp tells us about “ambient intelligence.” Yes, this is AI (artificial intelligence), but positioned differently. It is explained “farther than a single device or service.” What this means inside and outside of the “Amazon Holdings Catalog” is that devices will be able to interoperate and learn from each other and co-mingle with the services that can enhance them. Amazon goes on further to explain throughout the presentation that this isn’t just machine learning, but also customer (and integrator most likely) programming, set up and preferences. This technology lets end users teach Alexa and Amazon for that matter things like personal taste, favorites and lifestyle. This is an acceptable “fix” to something I have feared; I need the ability to override or program around habits that I would like left out of the equation. Although Amazon didn’t position it this way, by user and engineer review, I’m sure they saw this coming. Positioning custom AI in a way to play nice with the “shift in customer interaction with technology” is a brilliant move that many companies in the custom interaction space need to take note of. I think Amazon was completely holding class for other smart home companies when they named this tech “Teachable AI.”
One of the big “misses” with Echo Alexa products since the beginning has been the security concern with voice processing happening in the Cloud. While I haven’t been as concerned as many by this, and it being one of the reasons the company Josh.ai has been able to claim superiority over Alexa, local or at least hybrid voice processing has always been something I have wanted. Today Amazon announced that with their new processor (already inside the 10-in. Echo Show and the new Echo Dot) you can enable local voice processing. I can see this going hybrid very soon as I am sure it is on their radar with further announcement of “EDGE” I’ll get to Edge further in this article, but think of it as the mix of Cloud and local – what some of us call the “Fog.”
Consumers and integrators, you wanted local voice processing, here you go.
Maybe Actually a Worthwhile Smart Thermostat from Amazon
Another thing that has always bothered me in the custom integration industry was the use of thermostats. The term “smart thermostat” was a term that has lived long before they ever had any actual “smarts.” And don’t get me started on the overused term “learning thermostat.” Most thermostats offered by our automation companies are typically ugly, but they do expect us to remotely locate them and use remote temp sensors and an OEM touchscreen as the UI. But over the years with experience with them, Nest, EcoBee, Lyric, etc., I have wondered why even integrate these into the larger ecosystem of home automation? Certain devices (yard irrigation being the one I am the most adamant about) don’t need the level of “micro control” that devices in the audio/video world need. For irrigation, you just need to know: does my plant/grass need to be watered, how much does it need based on environmental factors, is weather going to require me to water less or more, and am I saving valuable resources? For HVAC it should be no different. Am I hot or cold? Do I need to be hot or cold? Where do I need this most? Do I ever want to touch a thermostat again? So Amazon is releasing their very own thermostat (Amazon Smart Thermostat ) and it’s actually kinda nice looking. In a partnership with Honeywell – the makers of Lyric and the Control4 thermostat and in the heat cool business for 130 years – Amazon is really onto something here. Amazon says that customers can control the Amazon Smart Thermostat using a compatible Alexa-enabled device or even have Alexa do the programming for them with Hunches. When Alexa has a “hunch” that you’re away from home or have gone to bed for the night, the temperature will adjust to help you save energy.
What does this mean for integrators that know how to do some Alexa/Control System programming? Simply pack it in a “Routine” with other automation devices. Amazon says “Our aim is to create experiences that use AI to help customers live more sustainably without even having to think about it.” This goes right back to my irrigation statement. And did I mention it’s only 60 bucks? What have we been paying for all this time?
Amazon’s Very Own Smart Hub Screen
We have all experienced the storm of customer requests for the Samsung Frame Tv, and I’m thinking this did not go unnoticed by Amazon. So what does Amazon do? They introduce the Echo Show 15 on Amazon! Ala Frame style. While this may just look like a bigger (15.6 inches) Echo Show mounted on the wall, they are touting it as much more. Referred to by Amazon as the “Home Connection Hub,” this particular Show has rotating home content, Alexa widgets – including “family calendar” and “sticky notes” – as well as showing your favorite Alexa controlled devices. Hello 1 button goes to my favorite Control4 bound routines! What’s also super cool in my opinion is the ability to have two- way communications or view Ring cameras in a smaller live screen area while still seeing and controlling the rest of what’s available.
Amazon also hit me personally with a doozy on this one. It will know who I am! With the Echo Show 15, Amazon launches Visual ID ,which is an opt in service that will “recognize you and the screen will automatically update to show you a custom greeting, your personal reminders, calendar events, recently played music, or personal notes from others in your home.” I have always wanted this. Bonus points for Amazon by creating a profile of this for children, so that if it recognizes an enrolled child it will only show and play “age appropriate” content. Now at the beginning of this I name dropped the Frame TV, and that was totally intended. Not only can it display art or personal images (in landscape or portrait) but it will also serve as your kitchen (or bathroom hint hint Amazon) TV. While I do love my big TV’s, with all the features packed in this show, I’ll settle for a 15-in. HD TV, picture frame, communication, surveillance, etc. It really is a lot to take in. I think this is a good place to drop the bombshell that SlingTv will be available on all Echo Show devices. We just blew your minds even more didn’t we?
“Today, families juggle multiple competing priorities—what time to drop the kids off at soccer practice, what to make for dinner, or when to schedule the next appointment—the list goes on and on. With Echo Show 15, Alexa can help,” said Tom Taylor, senior vice president, Amazon Alexa. “Echo Show 15 brings everything that makes your household tick into one place. With a redesigned home screen and Alexa widgets, you can customize Echo Show 15 to see your shared family calendar, manage to-do lists and reminders, find meal inspiration, and keep track of your incoming packages. Plus, Echo Show 15 can adapt to your home environment with fullscreen photos or art, so it’s always there when you need it, but fades beautifully into the background when you don’t.”
New Technologies and Services
I’m going to take a break on products for a sec—and yes there’s more—and move over to technologies and services as I catch my breath. While Amazon has a lot in the product area, there’s a lot of new tech behind the scenes. First there’s a new processor. What happens when there’s a chip shortage? You make a new one! Ford and GM you’re listening right? I’m not going into a lot of nerd details here (Google is your friend) but Amazon is now rolling out a new AZ2 quadcore processor. And all I’ll say now is that it’s stacked. This new A2XZ chip is also how Amazon is able to provide new services like Visual ID and Teachable AI as previously mentioned and another crazy concept—Custom Sounds. Amazon has already hinted at this in the past by allowing Alexa to recognize sounds like alarms, glass breaking and babies crying. Now you will be able to teach Alexa the sound of your refrigerator door open alarm, a car’s horn and even your nagging mother-in-law. Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the point. Now you can have Alexa learn specific sounds in the home and program through routines what your home should do when it hears those sounds. Best example would be the fire alarm. When Alexa hears the fire alarm, it can turn off the HVAC (they have a thermostat now), tell everyone to get out and light the way to the exit.
For the children, Amazon has now entered a partnership with Disney! That’s right, just tell your Echo device “Hey Disney” and if subscribed, get access to tons of content and Disney specific interaction from an Echo Device. While this may not be a big deal for integrators, a lot of us do have kids, and if you’re like me, you do totally nerd out on tech they will love and enjoy. So this part is for them.
“We’re bringing the worlds of Disney directly to Echo devices with ‘Hey, Disney!” said Limp. “By combining the strength of Alexa’s technology, with Disney’s unmatched storytelling expertise, we’re creating the next generation of immersive experiences to make guests’ vacations more memorable and giving our customers a way to make their homes a bit more magical too.”
“Our focus is to bring Disney storytelling to our guests wherever they are,” said Josh D’Amaro, chairman, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. “Through Alexa technology, ‘Hey, Disney!’ will unlock new ways for guests to engage with our iconic characters and stories both at home as well as at our Walt Disney World Resort hotels.”
Now back to the product nerdfest, and here is where it gets crazy, like really crazy.
The Coolest Technology Yet from Amazon – Even for Me
One of my favorite products of the presentation is the Amazon Glow. Touted as a “Immersive Virtual Experience,” a “Virtual Visit,” and a “Shared Virtual Experience,” this tech is truly all of these, and one of the devices from Amazon I am the most impressed with. Part video conferencing, part touchscreen, part projector, part projected virtual interactive keyboard/touchscreen/mouse, there’s seriously a lot going on here. This goes back to the beginning of this article about devices for challenging times. During the pandemic a lot of integrators jumped head first into “work from home/school from home,” as did I. But a lot of us forgot about the broken family and friend connections, or at least didn’t consider the best way to have real interactions. Looks like Amazon did consider it. Not to get all doom and gloom for the future, but this technology is one I recommend all integrators get familiar with quickly. The reliance on good internet connectivity, lighting and room treatment will definitely make this tech even better. Not to mention this is a technology that will be pretty expensive and complicated to replicate in a typical “custom integrator” fashion. Personally for me I saw this and envisioned my mother being able to play games and do things with her grandchildren from almost a thousand miles away.
“Glow brings an entirely new level of fun that lets kids be kids and welcomes grown-ups into an exciting new way to connect and bond, even when they’re far away,” said Joerg Tewes, General Manager, Amazon Glow. “We’ve created an unbreakable, supersized, projected surface like no other, fusing digital and physical fun that excites kids and delights grown-ups with all they can do together.”
A Controversial Security Update
Combo devices are a bad thing right? Like a TV/VCR? What about a security system and router in one? This is where it is going to get tricky for every integrator. I’ll be totally honest in that this next announcement leaves me really torn.
Today Ring announced Ring Alarm Pro. I know what you’re thinking, another Alarm… well that’s only part of it. I’ll start with security features since that’s what the product is “labeled.” Ring has answered the biggest security and privacy concern ever when it comes to video surveillance: local storage. That’s right, with the Ring Alarm Pro you can finally locally record Ring Cameras and even opt to have videos never go to the cloud at all, and even on a per camera basis.
One of the biggest changes from the previous Ring Alarm is local video storage. They packed Ring Alarm Pro with computing power and now you can now store and process Ring videos from select devices locally on Ring Alarm Pro with Ring Edge. Customers have asked for a local storage option, and anyone with a Ring Alarm Pro and Ring Protect subscription can do just that. Simply insert the included 64GB microSD card into your Ring Alarm Pro and choose which of your Ring cameras you’d like to connect. With 64GB, you can store approximately 47 hours of Ring video clips, giving you more choice when it comes to storing your videos.
Now there’s that “Edge” word I referred to. Amazon has realized that what we in the home technology industry know as the “Fog” is crucial to security, stability, and consistent uptime and access. While this is certainly big news, there’s even more. The Ring Alarm Pro also functions as a router—but not just any router. The Pro Alarm has an Eero Wi-Fi 6 router buried inside of it. The specs are what you would expect from Eero, WiFi 6 plus mesh, a single LAN port (so bring your favorite network switch for additional wired connectivity), and Wi-Fi speeds up to 900 mbps (which makes me suspect that the WAN port is that of the Eero 6 Pro, which is Gig, and coverage from the single device at about 1500 sq. ft.) But leave it to Ring to throw in even more special sauce: cellular instant redundant failover when loss of hardwired internet fails. Pair the battery options they have or a high quality UPS and you get always up, always connected internet, camera recording, and security all from a single device. The one thing they did add into this “all-in-one” device I wish more network manufacturers would add to their router natively. With Ring and Eero teaming up, they have added security features such as threat protection, ad blocking and content filtering. While I am always wary of Network devices like these (I have been tasked with helping develop the new CEDIA Network Certification after all) you can expect a full hands-on review of this product as soon as it’s available while connected to my own system.
While I’m on the subject of new Ring devices and technologies, two new technologies that were only briefly talked about were definite stand outs for real technologies that can have a valid impact in the more, and more importantly custom integration if adopted further. The first is called custom motion alerts. We have seen Ring in the past improve motion zones, add “Person Detection” and other advancements in object recognition. Now with Custom Motion Alerts you can possibly pick out a car in the drive way, a trashcan, or even a valuable in the home, and have programmed alerts happen when the objects move or becomes “missing.”
The next new technology leads me to believe someone at Ring has been watching bats in the wild. Ring has now added Ultra Sound Occupancy Alerts. Just as a bat does, Ring cameras (as an option) can emit ultrasonic sound waves which bounce back and Ring can use as an environment map. Consider a Ring camera “mapping a room.” Once mapped it can know when a person is in the room, when they are moving, and even know when they have actually left. Imagine a room really knowing when someone left and turning off all the lighting and even the TV? Imagine being able to reliably in a true “radar” fashion being able to know when someone enters the room and can adjust lights, temperature and other life safety devices. This is one technology that all integrators have been after for decades, but most of the tech we have used has been hodgepodge, unstable and unreliable. The success of this technology will be how we can further integrate it into larger home control ecosystems. I’m hoping Kevin Luther at Blackwire Designs can update his Ring drivers to have a special place for these alerts.
Hooray for Job Site Security
One of the big announcements is one that I am pretty sure many of us integrators have thought of offering to our builder and construction clients: job site security. That’s right, Ring is trying to make our job sites more secure. Offered in a partnership with The Home Depot (but I wish this was a CEDIA Program), The Home Depot is now accepting pre-orders for the Ring Jobsite Security 5-Piece Starter Kit. Yes, I just pre-ordered one, and yes through Ring I may offer this as a monthly service to my construction partners. Why would I offer it? I really don’t believe the majority of them will take the time to figure it out, set it up and monitor it themselves. Basically the same reason they call us to do Ring products right now instead of doing it themselves. Here are the full details of the kit you can order now:
- The Jobsite Security 5-Piece Starter Kit includes: Alarm Pro Base Station, Stick Up Cam Battery, Motion Sensor, Spotlight Battery, and a Powered Case.
- The Alarm Pro Base Station provides internet and security from start to finish.
- Watch over your job site in 1080p HD video with the Stick Up Cam Battery, and check in at any time with Live View.
- Physically protect the Ring Alarm Pro Base Station from the rough job site environment with the Powered Case.
- Spotlight Battery shines 400 Lumens of brightness with 3500K color temperature when motion is detected to keep unwanted visitors away.
- The Motion Sensor connects to Ring lights and cameras via the Alarm Pro Base Station to activate connected devices when motion is detected on your job site.
- Monitor your job site from anywhere and receive real-time notifications through the Ring App.
Amazon and Ring’s last big services announcement before their big wow moment is a managed service for camera monitoring. In a partnership with Rapid Response Ring has introduced Virtual Security Guard. What is Virtual Security Guard? It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. For a monthly fee an actual person at Rapid Response will physically monitor your cameras 24/7. While this may sound like an item for only the most paranoid residential clients, this will be a huge boost to those surveillance clients in commercial, retail and construction.
Say Hello to Your New ROBOT
Now for the moment I have been waiting for all my life. The opportunity to write about a robot you can actually buy! Amazon’s new robot Astro is more than those goofy one-off robots that have been offered over the years. This is the first time I’ve seen a robot proposed to the mass market that actually has legitimate technology and real life usefulness.
Amazon starts off this story with a question: “Do we think in five to 10 years that customers will depend on robots in their home?” Amazon’s answer was an obvious “yes,” so they got to work. While I could go on forever on all the groundbreaking tech they packed in Astro, I will say that Astro, at least right now, is the perfect combination of every Ring and Amazon technology with some brand new technologies that we haven’t really seen in home technology, much less in a consumer0facing device. Of course it uses Ring tech for viewing, of course they packed in Visual ID, of course they packed in EDGE so you can keep all the info local and safe and of course they packed in all the entertainment you would expect from Amazon. What is truly amazing is the way they are mapping the world that Astro lives in and the usage of that information. This obviously was the biggest challenge in a device like this, so Amazon went on the mission to figure out how to make sure Astro was able to move autonomously around the house.
Intelligent Motion, the technology that gives Astro mobility, uses advances in simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) to help Astro understand where it is, and autonomously navigate around dynamic home environments that constantly change. Using advanced onboard systems to adjust course in real time, Astro can pilot around objects that weren’t on the floor yesterday, or even a few seconds ago. To help personalize the experience, Astro also supports a new computer vision feature called visual ID, which lets household members teach Astro to recognize them so it can deliver a reminder or call to a specific person, or even find someone to bring them an item you’ve put in Astro’s cargo bin. You have to watch the video to really appreciate the way this technology works in Astro, and how I believe this particular technology will be very useful in other devices around the home.
Amazon lists the following use cases for Astro:
▪ Check in on your home: When you’re away, Astro helps provide the peace of mind that comes with knowing your home is safe. Astro can move autonomously around your home, navigate to check in on specific areas, show you a live view of rooms through the Astro app, or even send alerts if it detects an unrecognized person. If you want to see if you left the stove on, or to confirm you have all the ingredients you need for dinner in the pantry while you’re still at the store, you can send Astro to check or use its built-in periscope camera to take a better look. With Alexa Guard, Astro can also detect the sound of a smoke alarm, carbon monoxide alarm or glass breaking, and send an alert to your phone—helping you keep your home safe, even when you’re somewhere else.
▪ Helps you look out for loved ones: Astro will be able to help customers who are remotely caring for elderly relatives and loved ones. Your loved one can ask Astro to set and deliver reminders, or you can use Drop In to stay connected. When used with Alexa Together, a new service designed to help family members feel more comfortable and confident living independently, family members can set up Routines and receive alerts to give caregivers the reassurance that their loved ones are active and going about their day. Alexa Together also gives loved ones 24/7 hands-free access to Urgent Response, a professional emergency helpline.
▪ Provides peace of mind with Ring: Astro also works with Ring in keeping your home safe. With Ring Protect Pro, a new subscription service, you can set Astro to autonomously patrol your home when you’re out, proactively investigate when an event is detected, and automatically save video clips to your Ring cloud storage, which you can review from anywhere in the Ring or Astro apps.
▪ Brings Alexa to you around the home: When you’re home, Astro brings the benefits of Alexa to you, including information, entertainment, smart home control, and more. Astro can follow you from room to room while playing your favorite shows, podcasts, or music. It can also find you to deliver reminders, let you know that a timer went off, snap a family photo, and notify you of incoming Alexa calls—with the ability to follow you around your home while you are on the call.
If you are wondering if I am getting on the waitlist for Astro, you better believe it. And if it doesn’t fulfill all my robot dreams, at least it’s a start.
This is only a preview of what Amazon and Ring has coming our way. I plan on doing a full in-depth, hands-on review on all of these devices and you will be able to find these reviews right here at Connected Design. Keep your eyes open for the review on Ring Pro Alarm in the coming weeks. Amazon certainly delivered on having the largest product and services announcement press event I have ever witnessed. This was like an Apple press conference on steroids. I am personally excited about not only being able to offer all of these devices to my customers through the CEDIA Propel Program but also using these products and technologies in my own home.