According to documents reviewed by Bloomberg, Amazon is developing a new wrist-worn device. The device, described as a health and wellness product, is a collaboration between Lab126 – the hardware development group behind Amazon’s Fire phone and Echo smart speaker – and Alexa software team.
The device has microphones and software that can discern the wearer’s emotional state from the tone of the voice, according to the documents viewed by Bloomberg and a person familiar with the program. In the future, the technology could advise users on how to interact with others more efficiently, Bloomberg says.
Amazon development teams have a great degree of freedom to experiment with products, some of which never come to market. In this case, a beta testing program is underway according to the person, although it’s unclear if the trial includes prototype hardware, software or both.
Amazon did not comment.
Emotionally intelligent machines have long been a staple of science fiction. Today companies including Alphabet Inc, Microsoft and IBM are working on technologies designed to derive emotional states from a wide range of inputs. Amazon publicly announced its intention to build a more “empathic” Alexa.
The technology clearly presents many interesting business applications. It could help Amazon to get insights and recommend health products, improve target advertising and contribute to developing other health-related gadgets.
A 2017 US patent describes a system in which software determines how a user feels by analyzing his voice patterns, discerning between “joy, anger, sorrow, sadness, fear, disgust, boredom, stress, or other emotional states.” In this way, Amazon could recommend products or tailor answers.
According to the patent filing, the technology could advise a sniffling woman that tells Alexa she is hungry, and suggest a recipe for chicken soup for example.
Efforts in this direction reveal Amazon’s intention to become a leading maker of next-gen electronics and voice recognition software. Its attempt to create a smartphone software capable of rivaling iOS or Android have failed. The company is now trying to make Alexa as omnipresent as possible.
Bloomberg reported earlier this year that Amazon has teams listening to audio clips captured by their Echo speakers. The next step in data harvesting – collecting information about health and emotional states – could easily hand to big tech the perfect way to leverage on people’s weaknesses to manipulate their behavior as customers.