To say that the Amazon Echo has been popular would be a bit of an understatement. To date more than 11 million of these humble AI speakers have been sold to consumers. The home of Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa, the Echo speakers make it easy to integrate the web and home automation services into your living space.
Not content to simply ride this wave of success, Amazon has announced a brand new addition to their Echo line of products.This new device looking of your dollars has been dubbed the Amazon Look and if you’re interested in the Alexa ecosystem you may be wondering what the implications of the look will be.
The Dirty Details
The biggest difference when it comes to the Echo Look when compared to a plain Echo is the addition of a camera. Alexa now has eyes as well as ears, which means we get a new way to input information into the system.
Amazon is one of the world leaders in machine learning and the release of the look is a signal that they consider their machine vision technology to be ready for mainstream use.
The look is less an Echo with a camera added and more an Echo bolted onto a camera. This is a device designed around camera functionality, so I would not expect it to match even the somewhat mediocre audio of something like the Echo Dot. Which is why people connect external speakers such as those from Sonos to their Echos.
Let’s Get A Little Technical
The Echo Look comes with quite a bit of equipment that you won’t find on a regular Echo speaker.
For one thing, this is a device that can either stand on its own or mounted on a wall like a security camera. It comes with a wall-mounting kit and a long cord for the power adapter.
You get the same voice-activated Alexa features we all know and love already. There’s also dual-band WiFi with two dedicated antennas. You’ll also find the same near-field microphone array that makes Alexa so good at picking up your words.
What you won’t find is Bluetooth audio or a line output, which means you won’t be using that Sonos option that I mentioned earlier.
The camera itself is a pretty obvious new feature, but what may not be so obvious is the fact that it’s a depth-sensing model. This means that the camera can see in 3D and tell what’s foreground and what’s background. The camera is also equipped with a LED flash, which means it should work in something like a walk-in closet.
You might think that’s a very specific example, but the Look’s main party trick means that the lighting conditions in your walk-in closet may actually matter.
The Main Event
The Look is all about, well, you look. That is your fashion sense or perhaps lack thereof. For a selfie-obsessed society, Amazon may have just created a killer product. With the Look, you can take photos of yourself from every angle while seeing a live view on the dedicated Echo Look app.
You can get fashion recommendations using the style check feature and of course post the pics you like to social media. That’s where the depth-sensing camera comes in since it can blur out the background automatically, making sure that only you are clearly visible in the picture.
Style check uses machine learning algorithms and data on what’s trending at the moment to help you get a contemporary look. Obviously, it will also give Amazon a way to sell you that scarf which will just pull your whole look together, darling.
Video Killed the Radio Star
It’s not just photos either, there’s also the ability to do videos. Although there’s not much you can do with those videos that’s special, this is actually an important point, since depth-sensing video cameras aren’t all that common yet.
If you want to buy one to use with a computer you’re basically limited to buying the Intel Realsense camera or the Razer Stargazer based on the same technology. Depth sensing technology is great for making vlog-style videos where the background is automatically erased, replaced or blurred.
On top of this, I’m convinced that Amazon will be adding plenty of augmented reality skills to the Echo Look, all made possible by that special camera sensor.
Do I Want One?
That’s a tough question. If you’re a fashionista then this may already be the product for you, but that’s hardly a compelling application for most people happy to just be clothed in public. Clearly, the Echo Look or its successor will do a lot more, but until those other functions are demoed there’s no reason for the fashion unconscious to really care.
Nonetheless, it’s a really cool piece of tech and the second generation or first truly killer application for it may be a sign to pull the trigger and buy one.
How Can I get One?
Right now you need two things to get an Echo Look from Amazon: 199 crisp dollar bills and an invitation. I can’t help you with the money, but you can ask for an invitation right here. Whether you’ll get one depends on how popular these end up being.
There’s no clear indication when the Echo Look will join the rest of the Echo lineup to be a regular product or even if it will. Essentially this looks like a paid product testing beta, but I’m sure there will be plenty of takers.
As a rule being an early-adopter is usually a raw deal. We saw that with the rest of the Echo series. The second-generation speakers fixed all the little problems and were much more polished overall.
It is exciting to see Amazon proactively push Alexa and the Echo technology further, even if there’s nothing wrong with Echo the way it is now. If you’d rather use your money on their tried and tested merchandise, be sure to check out my roundup of the best Amazon Echo Accessories for 2018.