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e-commerce product technology

Amazon introduces new Alexa devices connecting more in the home

Amazon's smart plug and updated Echo Dot
Amazon’s smart plug and updated Echo Dot

Amazon has launched a new range of Alexa-enabled devices that will help the e-commerce giant take further ownership of connected user experiences in the home.

Announced at an industry event yesterday, (September 20), the devices include a smart plug,  microwave, clock and the Echo Auto, for automobiles. Existing devices such as the Echo Dot and Echo Show have also received upgrades.

“Soon customers will be able to manage their email, easily secure their home, watch the shows they love on Echo Show, and make their daily routines more productive — all just by asking Alexa,” said Tom Taylor, SVP of Amazon Alexa.

The smart plug turns any home appliance into a connected device – enabling users to turn them on or off, for instance, just by asking Alexa to do so. Meanwhile, the microwave allows you to set and start cooking times by voice, as well as control other key features of the machine.

The clock is an analog one in terms of the way it looks, but it can display times and reminders through rings of LED to show you how much time you have left on anything you have set. And the Echo Auto is a new device you plug into the dashboard of your car to enable you to benefit from various Alexa skills while driving, such as listening to traffic updates or setting routines such as turning on your lights at home when you enter your driveway.

The retailer also announced over 24 major new updates to its existing skills portfolio, which currently has 24,000 tasks that its devices can perform. The two most important ones include Alexa Guard and Alexa Hunches, which will both roll out later this year.

Existing Amazon smart devices have also been updated
Existing Amazon smart devices have also been updated

Alexa Guard, as the name suggests, will enable customers to activate Alexa to act as a security system. Integrated into selected Echo devices, it will be activated by the voice command “Alexa, I’m leaving”. Once activated, Alexa will be able to detect sound, such as breaking glass or smoke detectors, and send out a Smart Alert to the homeowner. 

The Alexa Hunches feature will learn from how its user interacts daily to connected devices such as locks and switches, and eventually predict and prompt when behaviors seem out of the ordinary. An example is when a user says goodnight to Alexa, the system’s response may be: “Good night. By the way, your living room light is on. Do you want me to turn it off?”

Other skill updates will allow the user to further add a layer of digital to their lifestyles, from cooking to TV streaming.

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Startups technology

John Lewis’ JLAB announces five start-up finalists for 2015

JLABpitchers_FINAL

John Lewis is focusing on retail services and connected devices in its second annual start-up accelerator program.

The 2015 JLAB finalists include a digital queue management system for stores called Qudini; an app-based coffee shop created by three teenagers called Space Lounges; a platform that allows connected home users to control all of their devices through one portal called Alfred; a camera device that lets you see who is at your front door called Peeple; and a wearables team called Ikinen who have developed the Helios solar-powered cover for iPhone users.

A total of 21 participated in a pitch day earlier this month (as per the above shot). Said Paul Coby, IT Director at John Lewis: “The five start-ups we’ve chosen certainly demonstrate what a wealth of great ideas there is out there. Each idea has huge potential to bring something new, whether to our customers’ experience of shopping or consumers’ everyday lives.”

Each will be given initial funding and office space within John Lewis’s head office for 12 weeks from early July, and access to a full panel of mentors, of which I am delighted to be one. Look out for my diary entry on the experience later this summer following the second pitch day in September, which will crown the final winner with a prize of up to £100,000 in funding.

The scheme is run in partnership with technology entrepreneur Stuart Marks and his venture fund, L Marks. Last year’s winner was beacon-provider Localz.

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Editor's pick Startups technology

John Lewis returns with JLAB start-up contest

jlab

It was a start-up based on beacons that won John Lewis’ inaugural JLAB tech accelerator programme last year, now the department store is turning to the likes of the connected home, effortless payments and meshing the digital and physical for a second spin of the contest.

The initiative is breaking down entrants into specific categories for its 2015 return in an overall bid to “develop products and services that will shape the retail experience of the future”.

Applications are now open until May 1 for the chance to win a place as one of 10 start-ups within JLAB for 12-weeks this summer, and I am honoured to be one of a number of mentors helping the participants in developing their ideas. My contemporaries will be announced in due course.

An overall winner will then be decided at a pitch day in September, receiving up to £100,000 in further investment as well as a contract to trial their solution in stores.

Said Paul Coby, IT Director at John Lewis: “As an established business we have certain ways of doing things and JLAB is an opportunity to inject the start-up spirit into our innovation efforts. Our inspiration is our founder Spedan Lewis – what new things would he be doing today? After the success of last year, I’m looking forward to working with a fresh group of start-ups with exciting ideas that could help shape the customer and Partner experience at John Lewis for years to come.”

The 2014 winner, Localz, is currently trialling its micro-location technology at Peter Jones. One of its key solutions surrounds triggering a customer’s Click & Collect order to be packed up for them as they enter the store in order to speed up collection times.

See more via www.jlab.co.uk, and watch this space for further news.