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Voice on Voice #147 
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The New Smart Home

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Last Tuesday, Amazon rolled out its new smart home products at its annual product launch event. The announcement included: the Astro smart home robot, Amazon’s first Alexa-enabled smart thermostat, the Echo Show 15, a Disney custom voice assistant, a video-calling device called Amazon Glow, the newest edition of fitness tracker Halo, and the official sign up for the Ring security drone. This extensive breadth of smart home products showcases Amazon’s ambitions to play in all areas of the smart home market, from security to entertainment. With this strategy, the company is laying the groundwork for Alexa’s aspirations to orchestrate the smart home, as well as to scale the backbone of Alexa’s technology into other branded environments like Disney hotels. But inevitably, the new product rollout has intensified the discourse on how large of a role these products should play in our daily lives, and the privacy concerns that follow smart product adoption at scale.

Home Patrol

Amazon announced its novel home robot, Amazon Astro. Astro (formerly codenamed Vesta) is equipped with Alexa and a slew of other features. The touchscreen display allows users to video chat, send messages, set timers and alarms, and even monitor footage from their Ring security cameras, while its small storage bin can deliver items. Astro's periscope camera, which extends 42 inches from the floor, provides a sweeping view of the inside of your home as it patrols your house. Users can control the robot and view footage via the accompanying Astro app. Although many have balked at Astro’s hefty price tag of $999 and its limited feature set, the robot’s video and audio capabilities have raised serious privacy and security concerns.
More on CNET

Hey, Disney

Amazon and Disney have partnered to bring a Disney custom assistant, available on Alexa devices, to Alexa users at home and guests staying at Walt Disney World Resort hotels. The assistant, “Hey, Disney,” will have its own custom voice and will also be able to share jokes, trivia, Disney character greetings and contents, and more. Starting next year, hotel guests in Florida will be able to use the assistant on Echo Show 5 devices for more tailored questions about hotel service and park information. “Hey, Disney” is made possible by Amazon’s Alexa Custom Assistant initiative, which allows companies to build their own voice assistants that can work in tandem with Alexa. Disney’s new development illustrates voice’s value for both entertainment and hospitality use cases.
More on TechCrunch

The New Big Screen

Amazon introduced the Echo Show 15, its newest smart display that boasts a 15-inch screen and can be hung on a wall. Similar to previous Echo Show smart displays, this new device can answer questions, stream video, play music, and more. Its large size and customizable widgets position it to be a smart home hub for families to coordinate their schedules and activities. Additionally, the new Visual ID feature that leverages the front-facing camera can identify what user is in front of the device and show personalized content to them. While the Echo Show still faces many barriers to the accessibility of third-party content, its updated size and new features are making the device easier for all family members to use.
More on The Verge

By the Numbers

$10M

was raised by Read, a Seattle startup that analyzes facial expressions and voices in video meetings to evaluate participants’ engagement and emotions. (data via GeekWire)

45%

increase in sales of smart displays in Q2 year-on-year. (data via Strategy Analytics)

Emerging Tech Stories 

  • Hey, Skullcandy. Skullcandy’s new earbuds come with a voice assistant that can adjust volume, launch Spotify, manage music playback, and more.
  • Search and Shop. Google’s Multitask Unified Model (MUM) will allow users to combine text and image searches in Google Lens, the company’s visual search app.

  • Virtual Commerce. WPP and Snap launched their global partnership, The AR Lab, to help brands leverage Snap’s AR e-commerce capabilities.

Voice Commerce’s Next Opportunity

In a recent interview for PYMNTS.com, RAIN VP of Growth Eric Turkington discusses how visual interfaces can drive the future of voice commerce.
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