Woman doing yoga in the sun

Amazon to analyse emotions with new Halo fitness band

Image credit: Jared Rice | Unsplash

Amazon is preparing to enter the health wearable business with the launch of a fitness band that listens to a person’s voice in order to analyse their emotions.

The forthcoming device will be part of a subscription service called Halo. The band reportedly won't have a screen or deliver any notifications like other fitness trackers on the market.

The band is initially launching in the US, with no word yet on when or whether it will be rolled out globally.

Amazon says the platform uses AI-powered health features and “multiple advanced sensors” that provide insight into overall wellness, the findings of which will be recorded and viewable in a dedicated app.

Sensors will include an accelerometer; a temperature sensor; a heart rate monitor; two microphones; an LED indicator light, and a button to turn the microphones on or off.

'Tone', the name of the voice-sensor feature, will use machine learning to analyse energy and positivity in the wearer’s voice, allowing them to “better understand how they may sound to others, helping improve their communication and relationships”, according to Amazon.

For example, Tone results may show that a difficult work call consequently leads to less positivity in communication with family, an indication of the impact of stress on emotional wellbeing.

The firm says multiple layers of privacy and security are built into the service, capturing short samples of speech and providing insights and daily recaps.

“Speech samples are always analysed locally on the customer’s phone and automatically deleted after processing – nobody, not even the customer, ever hears them,” Amazon said.

The 'Body' feature of the service uses computer vision technology to give an accurate body-fat percentage measurement, which Amazon claims is as accurate as methods a doctor would use. Health data is encrypted in transit and in the cloud and customers have the ability to download or delete their data at any time within the app.

“We are using Amazon’s deep expertise in artificial intelligence and machine learning to offer customers a new way to discover, adopt and maintain personalised wellness habits,” said Dr Maulik Majmudar, principal medical officer for Amazon Halo.

“Amazon Halo combines the latest medical science, highly accurate data via the Halo Band sensors and cutting-edge artificial intelligence to offer a more comprehensive approach to improving your health and wellness.”

The Halo service is projected to start at $64.99 (£48.40, approximately) for customers who request early access, which will include six months of Halo membership. After this period, the Halo membership will cost $3.99 (£2.97) per month. The full retail price for Halo will be $99.99 (around £75).

Users who choose not to subscribe to the membership but still want to wear the Halo Band can continue to access health basics, such as steps, sleep time and heart rate.

Meanwhile, Amazon's smart assistant, Alexa, has been schooled in how to better understand regional dialects in the UK.

Susie Dent, a lexicographer and regular contributor to popular TV word-puzzle game Countdown, has been helping Amazon expand Alexa’s vocabulary by introducing the virtual assistant to hundreds of new regional words and phrases.

As a result, Amazon says the AI helper is now able to understand a range of regional ways of saying hello, as well as different regional names for such words as dinner; a bread roll; sandwiches; mum and dad; woodlice, and children, among other words.

“Nowhere is the diversity of English vocabulary more apparent than in Britain. Our local languages are constantly evolving and changing,” Dent said.

“It is virtually impossible for people to learn every single phrase and utterance, but with technology getting smarter all the time, perhaps one day assistants like Alexa will understand everything from ‘dabberlick’ (tall and skinny) to ‘crumpsy’ (grumpy).

“In the meantime, I’m delighted to teach Alexa some new words and encourage everyone to converse more with each other, and with Alexa, so we can all learn the glorious quirks of British language.”

As part of the ongoing development of Alexa, Amazon uses language experts at its Cambridge Development Centre to train the assistant on the variations of British speech, from the rolling “r” in Scottish accents to the use of long vowels in the south of England.

Dennis Stansbury, Alexa UK country manager, said continually improving the software’s understanding of language was vital for making the user experience the same for everyone.

“Unlike us, Alexa cannot feign understanding through nodding, so in the instance Alexa mishears a word or question, the team have worked hard on ways to get better at understanding these – like Alexa asking follow-up questions to clarify what you might mean,” he said. “The goal is for Alexa to work equally well for every customer.

According to Amazon Alexa research, more than a third of people (34 per cent) admitted they had changed the way they speak in order to be understood, while 18 per cent said they were too embarrassed to speak up when they heard a regional word or phrase they did not understand.

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