Amazon working on high-end Echo, Alexa home robot

Bloomberg July 12 | Updated on July 12, 2019 Published on July 12, 2019

File photo   -  Bloomberg Inc is developing a higher quality version of the Echo speaker and ramping up work on its home robot.

The company plans to release the new Echo by next year, according to people familiar with the product. Prototypes of the cylindrical speaker are wider than the current Echo to squeeze in additional components including at least four tweeters, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss an internal matter.

The robot has wheels and can be controlled by Alexa voice commands, they said.

Both devices are being developed by Amazon Lab126, a research and development arm based in California. The company’s hardware foray keeps customers wedded to its ecosystem — buying products from and using services like Prime Video and Prime Music.

The Echo, which went on sale in 2015, will grab 63 per cent of the US market this year, according to EMarketer. But it has lost some ground to the Sonos One, Apple Inc HomePod and Google Home Max — all of which claim to deliver superior audio. Google now has 31 per cent of the market, while the rest have a combined 12 per cent. The HomePod isn’t selling as well as Apple expected, and the company recently dropped the price.

Amazon is also planning a high-fidelity version of its music service, according to Music Business Worldwide, that should mesh better with the new Echo. Amazon could still decide not to proceed with the new high-end Echo.

Amazon originally intended to reveal the robot, known internally as Vesta, as early as this year, but the machine isn’t ready to be mass-produced, the people said. While Amazon could choose never to release the robot, recently it has pulled engineers from other projects to work on it — a signal the company plans to sell Vesta at some point.

It’s unclear what tasks the Amazon robot might perform. People familiar with the project describe prototypes that are about waist-high and navigate with the help of an array of computer-vision cameras. In an internal demonstration, an engineer summoned the machine with his voice.

Amazon has said nothing publicly about Vesta.

Published on July 12, 2019
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