Technology

Amazon will let you teach Alexa to recognize and respond to sounds and detect occupancy

Today is Amazon’s fall product hardware showcase, and the company’s Alexa voice assistant is learning some intriguing new tricks. Amazon says you’ll be able to program Alexa to recognize “custom sounds,” so it could theoretically alert you or trigger smart home actions when it hears the sound of your choice. You’ll also be able to have some Echo devices emit an “inaudible ultrasound wave” that can detect if your home is occupied and automatically turn off compatible devices.

“Alexa can then use this to automatically perform actions like turning off your Fire TV if it was still on when you left for work,” the company says. It’s calling this “Ultrasound Occupancy Routines.”

The company’s experimented with sound detection a lot in the past, saying it’s taught Alexa to detect snoring and babies crying, and it turned the ability to detect breaking glass and smoke alarm sirens into its Alexa Guard feature in 2018 and 2019. Google has used ultrasound differently: its recent Nest Hub can tell if someone’s close to it or looking at it.

Theoretically, you could soon program Alexa to do far more — Amazon suggests you could train it to recognize the beeping sound your fridge makes when left open — but the company isn’t providing a lot of details today. Amazon announced the feature alongside its sizable new Echo Show 15 smart display, which includes a custom AZ2 Neural Edge chip to do some of its processing, but it’s not clear if Echo devices will need that new chip to make it work.

Amazon also announced that the AZ2 will help the Echo Show 15 use computer vision to identify different users and show personalized calendars, sticky notes, and music — which it’s calling “Visual ID” — and do more speech processing on device. Amazon also threw around the phrase “Teachable AI.”

A few select Ring cameras will also be able to recognize package deliveries now, and you can program new “Custom Event Alerts” as well, if you want to personalize what they detect.

We’ll let you know when we have more details on these updates.