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Amazon unveils its latest hardware… including a home robot


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Amazon held its event to unveil new hardware yesterday, with plenty of devices that are relevant to us (and some that are just interesting from a wider tech, culture and/or potential privacy worries standpoint too).

The Echo Show 15 is the latest iteration of Amazon’s smart display: a 15.6-inch screen that can be placed on a desk or hung on a wall, with streaming video, music and Alexa widgets to the fore. Amazon Glow, meanwhile, is a new device aimed at children: an eight-inch tablet that beams out a 19-inch “touch-sensitive, projected space” in front of it for activities, with a companion app for parents and relatives to join in.

There’s also a Disney-branded version of Alexa for Disney’s hotels and people’s own devices. And then there’s a robot called Astro: a $999.99 screen-toting device that will roll around the house playing music, doing video calls, answering questions and popping up a periscope camera for any household tasks requiring a pop-up periscope camera.

In an interview with The Verge, Amazon’s hardware boss Dave Limp stressed the company’s desire to be responsible about how its technology spreads around the home.

“I don’t imagine a world 10 years in our future where every house doesn’t have at least one robot,” he said. “I don’t anticipate a future where every house doesn’t have some sort of ambient intelligence in it. And so then the question is, what can you do to make sure that you get to that future, but you don’t end up with the Orwellian, dystopian version of that? For us, that means we have to kind of invent our way there.”

Not everyone is on board with the ‘not an Orwellian dystopia’ message however. Vice’s Motherboard published an article yesterday offering criticism of Astro in particular, drawing on leaked documents to claim that the robot is “designed to track the behavior of everyone in your home to help it perform its surveillance and helper duties”.

There are strong advocates for the potential of what Limp describes as “ambient intelligence” technology (see also: Google’s preferred phrase for this of “ambient computing”) and there are also strong critics of it – or at least people who think the companies working on this technology should be carefully regulated.

Ambient intelligence / computing brings lots of fascinating opportunities for music, which we’ll continue exploring and writing about. Amazon has worked hard to continually add more music features to Alexa, for example, alongside its voice-focused partnerships with artists. Still, it’s also important for the music industry to keep abreast of the privacy debates around this technology, so we’ll be reporting on those too.

Stuart Dredge

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