Echo and Echo Dot speakers get motion detection

Starting this week, newer Echo and Echo Dot speakers can use ultrasound to detect occupancy in your home and turn on and off other connected devices such as lights or your Fire TV. First mentioned at Amazon’s fall hardware event in September, Echo and Echo Dot fourth-generation speakers can now emit an “inaudible ultrasound wave” to detect if people are present in a room.

You can enable or disable this feature in the Alexa app, where you can also configure occupancy routines to use this new feature to do things like turn on lights when you enter a room and then turn it off again when the room is empty. You can also have Alexa play music or a radio station when motion is detected near an Echo device for a specified period of time, and then shut down the songs when you have gone.

The function is specified under Motion Detection in the Alexa app settings for each compatible Echo device, and here you can turn the function on or off.

This feature is similar to the motion-sensing newer Echo Show devices, but they rely on their cameras to tell if there are people in the room. The echo speakers do not have cameras, so instead the device detects motion by emitting an inaudible ultrasound wave that reflects from nearby objects before traveling back to the device’s microphones.

Google also uses ultrasound in its Nest smart screens and Nest Mini speakers to detect how close a person is to the screen or speaker and offer different interfaces. For example, on the Mini speakers, it will display volume controls. At this time, you can not use ultrasound detection to trigger Google Home routines.

There are a number of standalone motion sensors that work with Alexa to trigger routines – including those made by Philips Hue, Aqara and Centralite. This new feature means that in theory you do not have to rely on one of these extra gadgets to turn on your lights or music. It also promotes Amazon’s vision of the surrounding smart home, a home where your home automatically responds to its occupants with minimal instructions from them.

To get here, however, Amazon will need to put a little more effort into the Alexa app. Setting up routines to turn on the light with the correct brightness based on the time of day and then turn it off again when the room is empty still requires a lot of patience and some technical know-how.

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