Amazon Adds Alexa Gesture Controls and Text-to-Speech to Echo Smart Displays
Amazon has released new Alexa features for the Echo Show smart display allowing users to control the voice assistant through gestures and typing. Users can now dismiss timers with a wave of their hand, tap out words that the voice assistant will speak on their behalf, or enable universal captioning in one command, expanding the range of options for manipulating the voice assistant and improving accessibility for people with disabilities.
The new Gestures option allows users to stop a timer when its alarm goes off by waving a hand. Once the feature is enabled, Alexa uses the cameras built into the Echo Show 8 and Echo Show 10 to detect someone’s palm and will dismiss the timer as though the user had given a verbal order to stop. It’s slightly faster than speaking and can work even when it’s noisy. The gesture control is also ideal for those with speech or other disabilities who prefer a non-verbal choice for communicating with Alexa. Enhancing communication in the other direction, the new Consolidated Captions setting activates Call Captioning, Closed Captioning, and Alexa Captioning simultaneously across all Echo Show devices in a home, streamlining the accessibility too for those with impaired hearing.
Accessibility is also the center of the new text-to-speech option for Tap to Alexa. While Tap to Alexa already offers a selection of Alexa commands as in the form of buttons on Echo Show screens, text-to-speech augments the shortcuts by prompting Alexa to speak aloud whatever the user types on the keyboard.
“Since the launch of the original Echo Show in 2017, we’ve continued to develop features that make interacting with Alexa more natural. With the addition of a screen, customers have not only been able to ask Alexa for spoken responses, they’ve been able to see the weather forecast, follow along to a recipe, watch videos, make video calls, and check their security cameras and video doorbells,” Amazon explained a blog post. “Now, we’ve added text-to-speech functionality to Tap to Alexa, so you can type out phrases and have them spoken out loud via your Echo Show device. You can save shortcut tiles for your most common phrases, like “I’m hungry,” and customize these requests with new icons and colors. Text to speech can be useful for customers with speech disabilities, or who are nonverbal or nonspeaking, and who might seek to use their device to communicate with others in their home.”
Interest in making voice technology more accessible has grown among the major voice AI developers of late. Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft joined with the University of Illinois (UIUC) a couple of months ago to form the Speech Accessibility Project with that goal in mind. The project is collecting and analyzing speech samples from people with a broad array of speech impairments specifically to train new AI models that can understand atypical speech. Amazon’s focus on the matter led to new features like deeply integrating non-standard speech recognition developed by Voiceitt into Alexa, providing access to free audiobooks to blind people, and enabling a link from Fire TV Cube to hearing aids.