Amazon's Echo range of devices and Google Home respond to certain wake words or trigger phrases that essentially "wake up" these devices. For Home, it's "Hey Google" or "OK Google." For Alexa, it's simply "Alexa."
Amazon wants to make sure that Alexa only wakes up when you are actually calling her and not by accident. One of the many great things about smart speakers and virtual assistants is their ability to only respond to certain wake words, which allows the user to feel as if there's really a sentient being inside the house that listens to commands at all times.
While not always perfect, the Echo excels at responding only when you're actually talking to it. It's always listening, needless to say, and will only come alive when you ask for it to be. Amazon wants that same level of sophistication on third-party devices powered by Alexa.
Amazon Outs Cloud-Based Wake Word Verification
Amazon announced a new feature on Monday, May 15, called "Cloud-Based Wake Word Verification," which basically lets a device confirm if you really said "Alexa" and not just a word that resembles it. The feature aims to improve third-party Alexa-enabled devices by employing the same verification system that renders the Echo range of devices so reliable.
"With this update, the wake word engine on the device handles the initial detection of 'Alexa,' and then a secondary cloud-based check verifies the utterance. If a false wake word is detected, the verification process directs the device to close the audio stream and turn off the LED indicator," said Ted Karczewski, Content Marketing Manager of Alexa Voice Service at Amazon.
At present, third-party Alexa devices only perform a single verification check to determine if someone indeed uttered "Alexa." But thanks to the new verification feature, the device can now also send the audio to Amazon's servers to make sure it's really hearing the right wake word.
Will It Make Alexa Response Time Slower?
Amazon has configured the new feature in a way that won't hamper Alexa's response time — meaning you'll barely notice any changes in terms of how fast Alexa answers despite the new verification system. Alexa will still respond when the device is triggered, but if the cloud determines you didn't actually say "Alexa," it'll shut down and turn its lights off.
This is the level of sophistication which the Echo range of devices operates with, and it works great most of the time, except for rare occasions that have lead to comedic blunders. But it's a pretty stellar verification system, regardless. Amazon simply wants third-party devices to employ the same system.
When Will Third-Party Devices Get The New Verification System?
The new wake word verification won't immediately trickle down to all third-party devices that have Alexa, however. Amazon says these devices will require an update. So far, only one device employs it: the ecobee4 smart thermostat, announced just two weeks ago.
Now, the only thing Alexa needs is the ability to tell voices apart.
Thoughts about Amazon bringing its cloud-based wake word verification devices over to third-party devices with Alexa? Feel free to sound off in the comments section below!