September 25, 2019 6:44:01 pm
Amazon dominates the smart speaker segment and its Echo Dot is the world’s most popular smart speaker. The e-commerce giant’s success in the smart speaker segment isn’t a huge surprise, after all, it was the first one to pioneer the concept of smart speakers way back in 2014. The Alexa-powered Echo is so popular that Amazon annually refreshes the Echo lineup, which now includes seven models, each targeting different customer segments.
With Amazon set to launch its new lineup on September 25, we look at some of the lesser-known facts about the Echo smart speaker.
Lab126 is behind the Echo
Lab126, Amazon’s secretive R&D lab, is behind the Echo smart speaker. The “Echo” project was internally referred to as “Project Dobbler” or “Project D”. The Silicon Valley-based lab is best known for making Kindle e-book readers and the ill-fated Fire smartphone. “Project D” was so secretive that the team working on Fire Phone, known as “Project B” internally, had no idea about the Echo team until the Fire team was moved to work on the Echo smart speaker.
The Echo was originally called the Flash
The Echo was originally called Amazon Flash, according to a Bloomberg report. Most employees who worked at Lab 126 didn’t like the name, but Jeff Bezos liked it. And given the device responds to a keyword, there was another debate. Bezos wanted to say “Amazon” when you turn on the machine, while the team wanted the “wake word” to be Alexa. Since the word “Amazon” was so common, the speaker often respond to Amazon televisions ads and buying random items.
An Indian behind Alexa voice assistant
Amazon’s head scientist and vice-president of Alexa, Rohit Prasad, is behind the voice assistant. Hailing from Ranchi in Jharkhand, Prasad joined Amazon in 2013 as the Director of Machine Learning. He teamed up with Toni Reid, an expert in consumer experience design who looked after the Alexa experiences and devices, and focused on the speech and machine learning aspects of Alexa himself. Prasad was ranked 15th on Recode’s list of 100 people who matter in tech in 2017.
‘Star Trek’ inspired Amazon’s Echo and Alexa
The Alexa voice-activated AI assistant was inspired by the talking computer on “Star Trek”. Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos confessed this for the first time at the Washington Post’s Transformers Conference in 2016. He was interviewed by Martin Baron, executive editor of the Post.
“Our vision was that, in the long term, it would become like the Star Trek computer,” Bezos told The Washington Post. Bezos said he grew up playing pretend Star Trek every day with his friends when he was in fourth grade in Houston. “Good days,” Bezos said.
Disclaimer: The writer is in Seattle attending the event on the invite of Amazon.
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