Bloomberg reported on Thursday morning that Amazon.com (AMZN) is working on a "voice-activated wearable device" that uses microphones and software to "discern the wearer's emotional state from the sound of his or her voice." It adds that documents from Amazon state the technology could eventually "be able to advise the wearer how to interact more effectively with others."
With the qualifier that (as mentioned by Bloomberg) there's no guarantee this device will be commercialized, here are a few quick thoughts on Amazon's reported efforts.
- Since such a device would have to be constantly listening to a user's voice to gauge his or her emotions, it would raise privacy concerns of a very different kind than voice assistant-powered devices like Amazon's Echo speakers, which only listen in after a wake command (e.g., "Hey, Alexa") is spoken. Presumably, Amazon would avoid sending back the audio processed by the AI/deep learning models run on its wearable device to its data centers.
- Amazon's consumer hardware ambitions are steadily growing. On top of its Echo, Fire and Kindle lines, Amazon's consumer hardware operations also now include (thanks to acquisitions) its Ring home security hardware business and its eero mesh Wi-Fi system business.
- Also steadily growing: The ways in which Amazon's hardware ops are leveraging machine learning, as the company (like other tech giants) continues aggressively hiring AI talent. While one Amazon team reportedly works on a wearable that can detect emotions, another is reportedly working on a home robot. Internally, Amazon has deployed numerous robots within its warehouses, and has also dabbled with delivery drones and robots.
- A project like this is a fresh example of Amazon's willingness to sign off on product and service initiatives that are far from guaranteed to pay off. Jeff Bezos' latest annual letter, in which he declared Amazon needs to accept the risk of bigger failures as it grows, feels relevant here. "If the size of your failures isn't growing, you're not going to be inventing at a size that can actually move the needle," he said.
- Looking at the IoT hardware space in general, Amazon's reported project is another example of how the number of IoT niche markets in existence has been mushrooming, as hardware makers large and small keep finding creative ways to leverage recent advances in silicon, software, machine learning and cloud services. Ultimately, chip suppliers such as NXP Semiconductors (NXPI) , Cypress Semiconductor (CY) , Skyworks (SWKS) and Qorvo (QRVO) benefit. Providers of public cloud services used to deploy, manage and analyze the data produced by IoT devices -- such as Amazon and Microsoft (MSFT) -- benefit to an extent as well.