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2021-09-29 16:49:02 KINGSING

September has been a hectic month for new hardware. Following Apple and Microsoft, Amazon took to the (virtual) stage to unveil new additions to its Echo and Ring lineups, including security monitoring hardware and software services, plus a Wall-E-like robot (last week, it unveiled new Kindles too).

Here’s everything Amazon announced today.

A Cute Robot

The strangest and most unique device unveiled at the hardware event is a new Alexa-powered robot called Astro. This rolling household robot combines computer vision, artificial intelligence, Alexa, and Ring technologies to become your digital dog on wheels. The idea is to solve the problems associated with stationary devices, allowing for easy communication with those who are elderly or disabled.

You can use Astro to check on rooms in a household, people, and pets while you’re away, like a roving security camera. With built-in mannerisms like eyes, screen motion, and the ability to speak, it's designed to drive around your home autonomously without banging into everything, much like your nimble K9 and feline companions. It costs $1,000 and you can sign up for an invite if you want to preorder it. We have more details about Astro here.

A Cheap Thermostat

It’s almost surprising that Amazon hasn’t come out with a smart thermostat until now. The company has developed a simple-looking one with Honeywell's Home Thermostat Technology for an astonishingly low price of $59, well below the price of the average smart home thermostat (as Amazon well knows, seeing as how it sells tons of them).

It works with most existing HVAC systems and accomplishes the standard thermostat tasks, like setting routines in your home on when to lower or increase the temperature. Amazon notes that potential energy savings will help customers meet sustainability goals. At this price, it will also help Amazon edge companies like Nest and Ecobee out of the market. It launches on November 4.

Unlike any other Echo that came before, the Echo Show 15 is designed to be mounted to a wall in portrait or landscape mode, like a modern-day family bulletin board. With a 15.6-inch Full HD display, it's Amazon's largest Echo with a screen to date. The home screen has been redesigned to include widgets for calendars, to-do lists, and shopping lists, among others, as well as support for picture-in-picture mode. It can be used as a TV to stream Netflix, Prime Video, and Hulu, with support for Sling TV coming soon. When you're not using it, it can display art (or family photos).

You can train Alexa to recognize specific sounds with the Echo Show 15—like the sound your fridge makes when it's accidentally left open for too long or your doorbell ringing. The device will send a notification to your phone whenever it picks up on that specific noise. This feature is also coming to most Echo devices, except for the first-gen Echo and first-gen Echo Dot.

It's all powered by Amazon's latest AZ2 Neural Edge processor, which runs machine learning-based speech models faster than its predecessor. It has a built-in 5-megapixel camera and mics for video calls, both of which can be turned off when not in use. It also comes with Visual ID, an optional facial recognition feature that can recognize the person in front of the display to show reminders, notes from other household members, and upcoming events specific to them.

The Echo Show 15 starts at $250 but there's no exact launch date just yet. Amazon says you can sign up here to get alerts about the product's release. Additional accessories like countertop stands and under-cabinet mounts will cost extra.

Over the past pandemic year, one of the biggest struggles was engaging smaller children remotely. Anything was preferable to pinning them down on a couch whilst staring silently at Nana on a screen. Amazon’s Glow looks like one of the most promising devices yet to help with this.

The 14-inch-tall freestanding tower has a built-in 8-inch display. On one end, an adult downloads the Glow app on either an iOS or Android tablet. On the other end, the Glow projects a 19-inch interactive puzzle, story, or drawing activity on a 22-inch mat in front of the child. In addition to the mat, the tower comes with optional Glow Bits packages the child can manipulate by hand, like tangrams. The adult reads or plays along, and each gets to see the other's face. (There's a physical shutter to prevent anyone from snooping when the device is not in use.)